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News
July 4, 2019

On Target

by Laurence Haien

In the interview that follows, Kristie Matheson talks about her educational program at Red River College, her subsequent search for employment, and the things she has learned along the way.
Could you tell SCI Manitoba readers a little about yourself?
I was born and raised in Winnipeg. I’m twenty-seven years old and currently reside with my dad. I am looking forward to living independently in the near future. I recently completed the Business Administration Di-ploma at Red River College, and I recently began working as a human resource assistant. I’m an avid reader and enjoy reading young adult, adult science fiction and fantasy. I’m a big fan of Marvel and enjoy playing video games. I like spending time at the lake, going out with friends and family, and cuddling time with the family dog, Kumah, a twelve-year-old husky, shepherd mix.
What is your level of spinal cord injury and how does it affect you?
I acquired a C-01, 02 incomplete spinal cord injury which affects my phrenic nerve, resulting in no use of my diaphragm. This means that I am susceptible to chronic lung infections. I had a tracheostomy from six-weeks of age until I was sixteen-years-old. My lung strength increased at that time, enabling the removal of the tracheostomy. I might require a tracheostomy as I age because my lung strength will diminish. Addition-ally, I experience right-sided weakness; but I’m independent with respect to mobility and the activities of daily living.
Tell me how you came to choose the Business Ad-ministration Diploma Program at Red River College?
Well, my educational path has not been straight for-ward. Originally, I was enrolled in the Disability and Community Support Diploma Program at Red River College but came to realize the program did not focus on what I wanted to do. I was always interested in advocating for the employment of people with disabilities. The Disability and Community Support Program focused on personal care and support work.
Why did you choose the human resource stream?
Initially, I was going to take the management stream in Business Administration but by the time I had to select my major, the management stream had been eliminated. Additionally, I spoke with other students who had selected the human resource stream and decided the fit was right for me. Also, I don’t like math and marketing is not my thing so this eliminated options.
Did you experience any challenges as a student? What supports did you access?
I began the Business Administration Program in 2014 and accessed the supports available through Counsel-ling and Accessibility Services, such as, exam accommodation and counselling, which I used as necessary. Then in March, 2015 I was admitted to hospital for two weeks with pneumonia followed by a period of recuperation at home. So, I had to take time off from school.
When I returned to school, I decreased my course load. Emotionally, this affected me because I saw friends and classmates graduating before me. However, a positive outcome was that 11 other classmates and I competed in the Business Administration Entrepreneurship Trade show for the 2017/18 academic year and won. We had to create a business plan. Our business plan was called Men’s Cave and provided grooming services for men, including hair, nails and skin.
An additional bonus to decreasing my course load and deferring my program completion was that I lived in campus housing and worked as a Resident Assistant during the 2017/18 academic year which enabled me to live independently and to enhance my skills.
Looking back at your post-secondary educational and considering what you know now, is there any-thing you would have done differently?
I would have maintained a reduced course load throughout the program.

Having a reduced course load improved my mental and physical health and enhanced my grade point average. Sometimes following the ad-vice of the people around you is not the best option for you.
I would encourage people to reach out and ask for assistance, such as, exam accommodation, tutoring, or to network with classmates and instructors. Friendships may develop. This requires a shift in thinking. This has never been an issue for me, but I’ve seen others suffer unnecessarily because of their reluctance to reach out and ask for help.
Additionally, I think it’s important to make time for yourself and to pursue activities that are of interest to you. Being in school does not mean you have to be a student 24/7. I sat on the Student Association Board and represented students with disabilities. A counselor from the Counselling and Accessibility Support Center spoke with me about this opportunity and I was friends with the Vice President External who wanted me to sit on the Board. My involvement with the Board provided me with an opportunity to do advocacy, to work with a wonderful group of people, to make personal and professional connections, and to benefit the school. It also gave me insight into school and administrative politics.
Could you provide an overview of your job search?
My job search has been challenging, not because I have a disability. There have been times when I suspected I was not offered a job because of my disability but, I feel that some people are inclined to always think they didn’t get the job because they have a disability. I had the education and some experience but other applicants may have had more education or experience. I’ve done a lot of work and self-reflection regarding this over the years.
My preferred method of job searching was using job boards and corporate websites. I completed my course work in August 2018 and was putting in an average of 10 applications weekly. I experienced highs and lows during my job search. Rejection is part of the process. To combat this, I maintained my leisure activities which helped me stay connected to others and provided me with routine and structure. I signed up for a dance class. I went out for coffee with friends and just hung out. It’s easy to get into a rut; it’s important to avoid this.
I got my current position after I reached out to a temp agency. I think this is an untapped resource for many people. They’ll match you with a job based on your education, skills and experience while also accommodating your needs. Securing a job is not easy. I did not secure my job until the end of November 2018.
Also, I think some people assume when they complete school and get a job that they’ve completed their education. You never stop learning, whether on-the-job or otherwise. I’m going to take the national Chartered Professionals in Human Resources examination in June 2019; and my professional development will continue throughout my career.
Tell me about your new position?
I’m a human resource assistant. My main role is to per-form data entry for new hires, do reference checks, and help with various administrative tasks.
I’ve made great connections with co-workers and other members of the human resources department. These people will help me enhance my skills and knowledge in the human resource field while also giving me hands-on experience.
Is there anything else you would like to share regarding school or work?
In terms of advice, I would encourage people not to be afraid to make a name for themselves. This has been a shift in my attitude since starting my program at Red River College. I have a sense of pride and accomplishment in saying that I sat on a Board, was the co-leader of my entrepreneurship group, actively participated in class and acted as the Vice- President of the Human Resource Club at Red River College. Soon, I will also be able to call myself a candidate for the Chartered Professionals in Human Resources. I believe my accomplishments have helped others see what I can do.

Thank-you, Kristie, for sharing your story with the ParaTracks readership.