Alisha Tushingham’s school day starts at 3 a.m.
In those early mornings, her phone isn’t beeping with calls and social media updates. Most importantly, her young son Julian is sleeping. It’s the perfect time to crack open the books and study, finish up writing a paper, or research a new topic for the many criminal justice courses she’s working through at the University of the Fraser Valley.
“Everyone’s sleeping at that time,” she says. “There are no distractions.”
With an average of six hours of studying per course, school work takes up a lot of her day. Getting it out of the way before Julian wakes up helps her focus on him, while succeeding in school.
When she finishes her studies next December, she’ll have a degree in criminal justice, in addition to the diploma she holds in social service.
Tushingham’s commitment to her studies has earned her the Live Your Dream Award from the Soroptimist International of Chilliwack club. The $2,500 award is given to women each year “to improve their education, skills and employment prospects and create a better standard of living for themselves and their family.”
The Soroptimist club was impressed with Tushingham’s commitment to her studies. Now 31, her post secondary education began back in 2006. To earn that first diploma, she juggled working full time at Rona while taking courses at UFV.
“I just took a few courses at a time,” she said. With her diploma in hand, she was able to leave that job and seek work in her field. Tushingham earned contract jobs, working as a researcher, a native court worker, and more. That work led to a desire to work within the criminal justice field, and she signed up for even more courses at UFV.
In 2011, she took a year off to have her son, but she threw herself back into studying as soon as possible. Taking courses as she could afford them, while working, means she’s managed to keep her student debt fairly low. But it’s there. And so are the bills that come with being a student and a mother of a growing boy.
The Live Your Dream award is allowing Tushingham to do just that. She now studies full time, leaving no time for a paying job. As she gallops toward the finish line of a very long, but steadily paced, post-secondary education, she plans on working toward a career as an aboriginal liaison officer for Correctional Services of Canada. Tushingham was raised in a Sto:lo family, with a traditional aboriginal upbringing.
Being a First Nations student at UFV for a number of years, Tushingham has noticed how the school has embraced her culture and welcomed aboriginal students. Even the textbooks are starting to more accurately reflect Canada’s aboriginal history, she said.
“Idle No More has shown up in two textbooks of mine already,” she said. And rather than being a footnote of the past, residential schools are getting more ink, as well.
It’s a sign that perceptions are slowly changing, and it gives Tushingham hope for the future. She is also hopeful for changes in the justice system, and plans to be a part of that change.
“It’s going to be a really slow process,” she says. “There has to be more relationship building.”
Tushingham, along with the winner of the Violet Richardson Award and the 2015 Chilliwack Woman of the Year will be awarded at a special ceremony on April 22 at the City of Chilliwack Council Chambers. The ceremony begins at 6:30 p.m.
“Everyone is invited and encouraged to attend this ceremony, said Afton Very, chair of the Live Your Dream award. There is no fee to attend.
Nominations for the Woman of the Year are open until March 1.