Going places with an education degree

Huguette Labelle, with an intense gaze, stands outside in a park setting

"Even when I am involved in organizations that have nothing to do with education — such as the promotion of peace, development or the fight against corruption — the Faculty of Education has played an important role in preparing me for this work.”

— Huguette Labelle 

By Michelle Hibler

As the adage has it, “teaching creates all other professions.” Similarly, an education degree opens many doors. That certainly holds true for the thousands who have graduated from uOttawa’s Faculty of Education since its founding in 1967. Meet four alumni who have carved out distinctive careers both inside and outside the classroom.

Broad horizons

Huguette Labelle, who holds four degrees and an honorary doctorate from uOttawa, exemplifies a varied career path.

The University’s longest-serving chancellor (1994–2012) earned a bachelor’s in nursing education (’60), followed by both a bachelor’s and master’s in education in 1968. After joining the public service as principal nursing officer of Canada, she decided she should develop her research capacity —so she completed a PhD in education (’80) as well.

Labelle’s outstanding career includes 26 years in the public service, 19 of them as deputy head of six government departments. Among her many roles, she served as deputy minister of Transport Canada, chair of the Public Service Commission and president of the Canadian International Development Agency.

“Where I was at any time is what I liked the best, because it became the most important department for me,” she says. Recalling the professors who influenced her own interesting career choices, Labelle advises students to “make sure you keep your horizons as broad as possible.”

Creativity and communication

Julie Findlay (BEd ’04) seized a chance opportunity to steer her career from the classroom to the world of media. Findlay is Ottawa’s Mom in the Know,  sharing her thoughts on all things family-oriented and community-related. Along with regular appearances on CTV and Rogers’ Daytime, she has been featured in Capital Parenting Times and Ottawa Outdoors magazine.

Findlay discovered her passion for education in 1996 while teaching school in Ciudad de Valles, Mexico, and later back in Ottawa. After earning her uOttawa bachelor of education, she continued teaching until the birth of her first child in 2006.

While on maternity leave, Findlay teamed up with friend and food specialist Korey Kealey to create a public education pilot project for Dietitians of Canada. This led to her current work, which lets her “balance being a mom, taking care of myself and my family, while continuing to educate.

“Whether preparing to go on air or writing my blog, it’s always about the idea, then design, develop and present,” she says. “Being creative and passionate about your message — that came from my BEd.”

Counselling and research

Daniel Nadon has a new psychotherapy practice and is involved with a uOttawa research initiative developing tools for high school guidance counsellors.

Daniel Nadon (BEd ’08, MEd ’13) made a more deliberate move away from the classroom, but retains a connection to his alma mater.

“I did my BEd to be able to teach in Ontario,” he says. While the practicums he undertook as part of the course were “a really good experience with very devoted teachers,” the short-term contracts and supply teaching after graduation were less satisfying.

But his BEd did open another door — to a master’s in educational counselling (now called counselling psychology). After working at career counselling and addiction treatment centres, Nadon has just started a private psychotherapy practice, where he helps clients deal with stress, depression, grief and other issues.

He is also working with his uOttawa thesis adviser on research related to high school counselling. “There aren’t enough guidance counsellors,” he says. “I’m collaborating on developing free tools that are empirically validated, for guidance counsellors to use with their students.”

Fun with music

For many education graduates, of course, the classroom is the destination.

Willy Wandji sits in a park drumming on a djembe

Willy Wandji, formerly a journalist in Cameroon, started a popular drumming club during his teaching practicum at a London, Ontario, primary school.

Willy Aristide Wandji (BEd ’14) was a journalist in Cameroon before arriving in Montreal in 2012. From there, he entered uOttawa’s teacher education program in French (at the Toronto campus), later going to London, Ontario, for a practicum as a phys ed teacher at a primary school. An avid soccer player and musician, he started a drumming club during the practicum.

“Students returned to class more motivated and able to settle down to work,” says Wandji, who now works full-time at the school. “The principal noticed this and found the funds to buy 30 more djembes.”

His students performed their own drum compositions at a 2016 Black History Month event. And after hearing from his sixth graders that “rap is only cool in English,” he encouraged them to write rap songs in French. With his students, he recorded one of his own songs about bullying, Intimidation, which has spread throughout London’s French schools.

“Children want to learn by having fun,” he says. “I may not be a perfect teacher, because I’m new — but at the end of the day I see that smile, that joy on their faces.”

The value of teaching

Huguette Labelle would applaud Wandji’s enthusiasm for teaching.

“Our schoolteachers are multiplying agents. From kindergarten, all the way to postdoctoral studies, preparing our teachers is one of the biggest contributions one can make to society,” she says.

“And even when I am involved in organizations that have nothing to do with education — such as the promotion of peace, development or the fight against corruption — the Faculty of Education has played an important role in preparing me for this work.”

The Faculty of Education celebrates its 50th anniversary on May 4, 2017, during Alumni Week. Come and meet our students, alumni, professors and staff, as well as our partners in education. Register online or contact Anne-Sophie Ducellier for information

Main photo:
Huguette Labelle earned four degrees and received an honorary doctorate from uOttawa. Photo: Colin Rowe Photography

Julie Findlay and Jane Goodall stand in a TV studio in front of a wall-sized backdrop of Ottawa.

Alumna Julie Findlay, shown here with conservationist Jane Goodall, is a blogger, broadcaster and public educator.


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