March 25, 2021Print | PDF
If you wanted to connect with current Wilfrid Laurier University student Simone Alexander in the past, you might have found her studying on a university campus in her home-country of Trinidad, working as an investment banker in Toronto, or visiting a home as a child and youth worker in Brantford-Brant.
Today, you can find Alexander working in the COVID-19 clinic or at the front desk of John Noble Home, a non-profit long-term care home devoted to providing love, care and dignity to its residents, family and staff in the City of Brantford and the County of Brant.
“As a mature student, I want to look beyond what I can learn from a textbook and embrace the human connections we can make in classroom and practicum settings. I believe my purpose in life is to continue to learn, grow and develop through interactions with others.”
Alexander is completing her Bachelor of Arts in Community Health with a minor in mental health and addiction at Laurier’s Brantford campus. She previously worked in the financial and family services sectors. Although it had been nearly 30 years since she attended university, Alexander came to Laurier in 2016 to further her education and found meaningful ways to connect her lived experience with in-class and experiential course components.
“When I arrived in Canada from Trinidad I felt that my educational experience was discredited,” says Alexander. “Today, I feel like what I have to say and what I have to offer is valuable.”
As part of the Community Health practicum, an experiential component of the program, students are exposed to real health care settings though workshops, professional observations and placements.
“As a mature student, I want to look beyond what I can learn from a textbook and embrace the human connections we can make in classroom and practicum settings,” says Alexander. “I believe my purpose in life is to continue to learn, grow and develop through interactions with others.”
Karli Cass, coordinator of resident programs and volunteer services at John Noble Home, says that Simone’s skillset, growth mindset and warmth are just a few of the highly valued traits that make her a natural addition to the home’s existing team of caregivers.
Alexander began her placement at John Noble Home in January 2021. She has since completed her placement requirements, but was recently hired to continue working in a part-time capacity. She was also included in the recent vaccination program for the residents and staff members.
Alexander has two primary roles: receptionist and swabbing clinic administrator. As a receptionist, she applies her interpersonal, organizational and verbal communication skills to ensure people feel cared for from the first point of contact.
“This is all about interpersonal connections and making people feel comfortable,” says Alexander. “Emotions are running high for visitors, residents and staff due to COVID-19, so my encounters at the reception desk or in the clinic should always put people at ease.”
Alexander also plays a significant role in the home’s COVID-19 swabbing clinic. Alexander is responsible for tracking employee tests and encouraging compliance. She works with a clinic nurse to reconcile data and follows up with employees during the screening process.
“In a sense, everything and nothing changed during the pandemic. The willingness of our partners to engage with students hasn’t changed, students’ contributions to organizations has not waivered, and faculty members’ excitement remains strong.”
During her placement, Alexander has learned how to engage with caregivers, staff and residents in the context of a pandemic. She has witnessed how COVID-19 has affected the long-term care industry, as well as the significant impact physical distancing and additional screening measures have on those living in long-term care.
Cass says John Noble Home has pivoted to find creative ways to connect residents with their loved ones during the pandemic. Following Ontario’s COVID-19 framework, the home has moved to smaller-scale group programming in lieu of large group activities, introduced virtual community events, and built capacity to facilitate touchpoints with family members using Skype and Facebook.
“The experience we can provide students now complements the type of skillset that’s needed in the pandemic context,” says Cass. “We’re going to continue to provide placement experiences for students because we are proud of the community connection and value the knowledge that comes from partners like Laurier.”
Placements like Alexander’s are coordinated by Laurier’s Community and Workplace Partnerships team. Workplace partnerships coordinator Tyler Van Herzele (BA ’16) says the Community Health practicum is evidence that the connections students make during their undergraduate experience can lead to real job opportunities.
“It’s not just possible – it happens to our students all the time,” says Van Herzele. “In a sense, everything and nothing changed during the pandemic. The willingness of our partners to engage with students hasn’t changed, students’ contributions to organizations has not waivered, and faculty members’ excitement remains strong.”
Alexander’s experience with Laurier faculty members early in her studies provided the warm welcome she wanted – but didn’t necessarily expect – when returning to university as a mature student.
“Professors like Janet McLaughlin and Rebecca Godderis were so open and down to earth that they helped me to find my voice and made me feel like my life experiences were valuable in the classroom,” says Alexander.
Alexander would like to pursue her Master of Social Work in the future. She says the opportunities for human connections – interactions with peers, faculty members and community partners – built into the Community Health program have led to some of the most memorable and meaningful moments during her studies.
“This program looks at public health from a holistic perspective and that has opened my eyes to the things that we take for granted in our communities,” says Alexander. “I now have a better understanding of and empathy for others’ lived experiences.”