Meet Kim Barton:
Kim Barton is currently an MSc student in Family Relations and Human Development, studying educators’ experiences with mental illness and working to de-stigmatize it in the workplace. Kim participated in the Vancouver Catalyst program in 2014 while she was completing her undergraduate degree at U of G. She participated in various experiential learning opportunities, and after the Catalyst program as inspired to become employed within the field of addiction and social work and she is now a registered early childhood educator. At the beginning of her masters in September 2020, Kim was seeking to build a deeper connection on campus, and is now supporting the organization and development of the Catalyst programs through the Peer Helper program. Kim tells us about her U of G experience, her learnings from the Catalyst program, and her advice to anyone seeking experiential learning opportunities.
What year did you do the Vancouver Catalyst program in? Tell us about your experience with it!
“I did the Vancouver Catalyst program in 2014. It was sincerely a catalyst for creating transformative change in my life. Prior to my engagement in the program, I had no direct experience with working with communities that I was not a part of. Participating in experiential learning and building relationships with the social workers and the clients in Vancouver opened my eyes to the ways that we go about solving real world problems and the things that influence these problems and solutions. After participating in the program, I went on to become employed within the field of addiction and social work. For many years after this, I used the knowledge I encountered about harm reduction in my everyday work. I ended up pursuing a career with children and I am now registered early childhood educator. In this work I apply many of the transferrable skills I learned about supporting individuals and families holistically.”
How did you find out about the Catalyst program?
“I first heard about the Catalyst program through the one-day Project Serve program. I volunteered for a single day and realized I really value the training that came along with that engagement. I followed up to inquire about how I could extend this learning experience which is how I found out about the Catalyst reading week programs.”
What is the thing that inspired you the most post-Catalyst program?
“The learning I had during the Catalyst program that most changed my life was to consider the systemic factors and intersectional influences of the inequalities that exist in our world. Seeing firsthand the barriers that the individuals and employees face when trying to resolve complex issues helped me realize that there is no quick fix for any of this. Additionally, it prompted me to rethink what is possible in terms of solving complex problems. For example, when we visited the supervised consumption site (InSite), it prompted me to think about how we need to gather evidence and data and work with an interdisciplinary approach to solve these real-world problems. We need to go beyond our current imaginations, comfort levels, and rationales to produce solutions that evoke change, instead of just moving the struggles like housing displacement, precarious employment, and addiction out of sight.”
Tell us about your grad studies. What are you studying and why?
“I am studying educators experiences with mental illness because it’s something that is stigmatized and the little bit of research that exists suggest the educators deal with mental illness in silence. Educators, like money helping professionals, are considered to support other people’s well-being but have few workplace resources to support their own well-being. With my research I hope to help disrupt this pattern of silence so that workplaces can better support educators.”
What made you decide to do your grad studies at U of G?
“A few things brought me back to doing my grad studies at the University of Guelph. Firstly, I grew up in Guelph and I’m interested in deepening my connection with the land and water here. I love the U of G campus – I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. Secondly, I had a great relationship with my advisor prior to starting my program and I felt well supported by the department that I was interested in. My relationship with my advisor was my top priority when deciding where to do my grad studies. Third, I wanted interdisciplinary training and to untether myself from any one particular way of approaching research and education.”
What is your role on the Peer Helper team? Were you involved with this team in your undergrad?
“My role with the Peer Helper program is new – I just joined in September of 2020 at the start my masters because I wanted to build deeper connections on campus. With my team I now help support the organization and development of the Catalyst programs (my learning is coming full circle which is super cool!). Since the programs aren’t running during the pandemic my team worked on developing a CourseLink site to support to each of the programs. While my role was to provide support, I ended up learning so much about reconciliation, truth-telling, and Indigenous wisdom – but I have so far still to go.”
What would your advice be to someone seeking a similar path or experience as you and/or to someone considering experiential learning?
“As someone who has engaged in several experiential learning opportunities and who has facilitated some experiential learning, I want to highlight that there is nothing quite like being immersed in experiences with your whole body and mind to spark transformation in your life. Being involved in learning outside of academia allowed me to critically appraise the information I learned in school, foster real world skills (like relationship building and facilitation), and, through meaningful conversations with others who have shared these unique experiences, I was challenged and changed for the better. That doesn’t really answer the question but essentially my advice is dive in to any experience that is interesting to you because it may reveal a journey that you can’t even see yet!”
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
“Lately I’ve been thinking about how sometimes we can’t see a clear path ahead until we embark on the journey – only then might a path emerge. So, when it comes to feeling uncertain about our careers or whether we have time to volunteer, I think we forget that we don’t even know where those kind of experiences can lead us or what kind of connections they might build for us and our lifelong development. There’s so much personal value in participating in experiential learning programs.”