Vantaishia (Taish) Tommy knows exactly where she wants to be when she has finished her educational journey — protecting the rights and habitats of animals of all kinds and sizes around the world.
The Adult Basic Education student, who was recently given the Mike Coleman Award for Citizenship, has a few more years to go before she can realize her dream of becoming a wildlife veterinarian, but it’s a dream she knows she will achieve. She credits the instructors at Vancouver Island University’s Cowichan Campus for making her feel like she can accomplish anything.
“Attending VIU Cowichan has changed me in the best of ways,” says Tommy. “I’m no longer as shy as I used to be, and I don’t feel judged or embarrassed to ask for help. I gained the courage and eagerness to be able to speak up during classes, to ask questions or answer them, as well as express my ideas.”
The Mike Coleman Award for Citizenship is granted to a student attending the Cowichan campus who has demonstrated good citizenship both in the community and at the university and is a good well-rounded student. Tommy was awarded $250 and a plaque.
“Taish is a warm and friendly person who brings a positive and calming effect to her classes,” says Dan Vaillancourt, an Adult Basic Education Instructor. “She is very approachable, understanding and is a quiet leader. She sets the tone for meaningful and respectful participation in the classroom and is supportive of her fellow students. It has been a pleasure to watch her grow in confidence over the past few years to become a contributing member of the VIU community.”
On her own at the age of 17, Tommy reluctantly dropped out of high school because she had rent to pay. It was after she had a child at the age of 19 that she knew she had to go back to school to make a better life for herself and her son. Tommy laid out a 10-year plan for herself to obtain a master’s degree and eventually a PhD.
“I enrolled in the Adult Basic Education Program at VIU so I could graduate, which I have done and now I am taking physics and chemistry, which I will need to pursue my bachelor’s degree,” says Tommy. “I did a lot of research on careers and working with animals. A lot of opportunities will open up to me when I become a wildlife veterinarian. It will allow me to work with small animals as well as big animals such as elephants, lions and bears, and I can work at aquariums, rehabilitation facilities or clinics anywhere in the world. ”
Former Duncan mayor Mike Coleman started the award more than 20 years ago as a way to encourage young people to do well academically and reward their involvement at school and in the community.
“I believe it’s important to encourage community involvement and commitment and to endorse those who step out and do that kind of thing,” says Coleman. “I have been really impressed with the students who have won the award over the years. The more encouragement we can give our young people the better off society is. That’s why I continue to support the award, recognizing their contributions is an investment in the future of the community.”
Despite her school and workload, Tommy always finds time to support her community through bottle drives, auctions, car washes, bake sales, shoveling parking lots and driveways, helping with renovations, Cowichan Tribes Elder’s lunches, community clean-up activities, Big Brothers and Big Sisters or volunteering at a local soup kitchen.
“I am ecstatic and grateful for the award,” says Tommy. “It’s heartwarming to see the impact I have made on the whole school.”
Annette Lucas is a communications officer with Vancouver Island University.