An Abbotsford woman has been recognized as the top academic student among two-year programs at University of the Fraser Valley.
Rose-Mary Siemens, 54, is this year’s recipient of the Governor General’s bronze medal, after maintaining a perfect 4.33 GPA.
In 2019, after a decade-long career in tourism followed by a 20-year run managing wine stores, Siemens hit a crossroads professionally. Opportunities in the wine industry had dried up. She also felt unfulfilled. And, now that her kids were grown and independent, she was ready for a new challenge.
The question was, what kind of career would light up her soul and help her contribute to society?
“At first, I was thinking about choosing nursing, but I thought that would be physically difficult at my age,” said Siemens, also noting that she did not have the time or resources to do a traditional, full-time bachelor’s degree program.
After talking to a UFV adviser, Siemens opted for the social services diploma program. She started at UFV early in the pandemic in the fall of 2020, taking virtual classes and completing two practicums.
Finding her true calling as a social service worker might have come later in Siemens’ life, but the seeds were planted early. Growing up in Chilliwack in the 1970s and early ’80s, she was always an empathetic person.
Entering UFV (then Fraser Valley College) in 1987, her initial instinct was to go into a career where she would provide emotional support for people. However, a family member told her that since she was so soft-hearted, it would be difficult for her emotionally to enter that kind of field.
She instead went on to obtain a marketing and tourism diploma from BCIT.
Building strength and gaining awareness of human suffering came from life experiences as she aged. She recognized that the emotional turmoil of her father, a Second World War veteran, was likely undiagnosed PTSD.
In her 30s, she witnessed the mental health struggles of an Indigenous romantic partner, who was a survivor of residential schools. Siemens herself was the victim of domestic abuse in a past relationship.
She started to think about transitioning into a career of supporting people when she managed wine stores and found herself connecting with customers, picking up intuitively on their struggles and making herself available if they needed to talk.
By the time Siemens returned to UFV over 30 years after her first stint here, she had more clarity.
She completed two practicums as part of her program. The first was at a high school in Abbotsford, where she worked with teens to help them with gaining mental wellness.
The second was at Wilma’s Transition Society in Chilliwack, where she worked with women escaping intimate partner violence and building a new life.
Because she had course credits from when she attended UFV the first time, Siemens finished her program early in December 2021.
She recently got a job as a mental health community support worker at Stepping Stone Community Services, a non-profit in Langley that offers a range of psycho-social rehabilitation programs and services that are person-centred and recovery-focused.
Although it has just been a month, Siemens is exactly where she wants to be.
“It is never too late to change direction and reinvent yourself,” she said. “Take risks and live without regrets and missed opportunities. Life has a way of closing some doors and opening others. Choose the open doors and see where they take you.”