Thompson Rivers University

Open Learning awards fuel student success

February 14, 2024

Calgary’s Amanda Speers and Mark Garlough of Tsawwassen arrived at Thompson Rivers University (TRU) from different places for different reasons, but their stories share a common element: TRU Open Learning (OL) was instrumental in their success. The remote-learning environment, self-directed pace and dynamic faculty are a few reasons why OL worked for them and so many other students.  

Speers and Garlough are among 10 OL students recently awarded TRU Open Learning Faculty Association (TRUOLFA) Awards. To date, 38 students have received support from the awards, developed several years ago by OL faculty members, including association president Dr. Mark Salopek. 

Salopek says faculty introduced the awards as a way of giving back to the students they engage with through OL. A professor of history and business management, he has been part of OL since 1991 and has taught many students over the years. One of those is Speers, who says she had a great experience in Salopek’s class and is honoured to be an award recipient.

Open Learning student Amanda Speers.

OL student Amanda Speers.

Speers earned her computer technology diploma from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, which she used as a springboard to enter a degree program at TRU. She enrolled in OL in 2015, but raising children and advancing her career delayed completing her degree until now. She finished the final requirement for her Bachelor of Technology degree in 2023 and will attend convocation in Kamloops in June 2024. 

“I’m excited to go to the campus and celebrate,” says Speers, who is considering what’s next for her at TRU. Receiving the faculty award as she was finishing her degree gave her motivation to continue her journey. 

“When I received it, I felt like it was telling me to keep going, keep going,” she says. “Even though it’s at a distance and it’s all self-paced, there’s still a real sense of community with Open Learning that people might not realize. I’m taking a little break but I’m not done — I have a couple avenues that I’m considering.” 

Open Learning providing unexpected opportunity 

Mark Garlough’s choice to pursue a degree with OL wasn’t part of his original plan. He came to TRU in 2011 fresh out of high school seeking a career as a police officer. He completed a diploma in police and justice studies and was on his way to accomplishing his goal when unexpected medical issues brought his journey to a sudden halt. 

OL student Mark Garlough

OL student Mark Garlough

Since then, he’s undergone more than a dozen surgeries and continues the battle to regain his health. While his dream of being a police officer remains, his current focus is completing a degree in sociology.  

“Unfortunately, because of my situation, I can’t really travel by myself at this moment, so Open Learning has really been a lifesaver,” says Garlough. “It’s allowed me to work at my own pace and helped me rediscover the joy I get from learning.”  

Receiving the OL award has lifted some of his financial strain and allowed him to register for additional classes. He is grateful his professor encouraged students to apply for the TRUOLFA awards and he wants to increase awareness so others can reap the benefits.  

“There’s a lot of diverse situations out there and people who could use help in their journey,” he says. “It’s had a big impact on me.” 

Information on applying for financial awards can be found through Student Awards and Financial Aid.

Related Posts