Mount Allison University is a liberal arts school in rural Atlantic Canada that is consistently ranked as offering our country’s best undergraduate education. What I’m most proud of is that the University has a long tradition of supporting students with disabilities and a strong commitment to innovating how education can be more accessible. I work in this area everyday as the Director of Accessibility and Student Wellness. As a part of this role, I manage the Meighen Centre, which is the University’s centre for supporting students with disabilities.
This year, Mount Allison launched a brand-new international opportunity. Fifteen students and two staff travelled to Utrecht, Netherlands, for a a two-week, for-credit field school led by the Department of Psychology. Of the 15 students, 10 identified as having a disability. Thanks to the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, I was able to travel with this group to support their individual learning and accessibility needs, ensuring students from a traditionally disadvantaged group had access to this unique educational opportunity and were able to fully participate.
After the experience, I asked students their reflections about the trip. One of the most notable responses from a participant was that they thought it was important for others to know that at Mount Allison students with accessibility needs can and will be accommodated even when taking our classrooms abroad. This is something I am so proud our University is committed to doing.
For many of the participating students, it was their first time travelling abroad. One of those students was Nathan McIver, who shared that the entire trip — from the application process and travel itself to the connections he made and continues to stay in touch with — was an experience that built his confidence and was life changing.
“It shaped me as a person,” says Nathan. “I’m so grateful for the whole opportunity and the people I met. I just hope more students get an opportunity like this.” Nathan shared that among his favourite experiences were a kayak trip through the canals of Utrecht, visiting restaurants and cafes owned by local farmers, and making excursions to other nearby cities and countries. A member of Nathan’s family had also perished on a battlefield in the Netherlands during the Second World War, and he had the opportunity to visit the site.
Nathan expressed appreciation for the help with notetaking when attending large classes at Utrecht University and shared that the faculty leading the trip and classes were very open and allowed students new to international travel and study to ask questions whenever they were unsure.
Funding from donors and government make this and similar field schools possible. Other upcoming field schools include a Religious Studies course in Kyoto, Japan, and a Biology Course on the Galapagos Islands. Our Department of Psychology will also be offering another field school in the Netherlands next year. Thanks to the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, Meighen Centre support staff will be able to accompany students and provide accessibility supports. We are deeply appreciative to the Foundation for helping our students achieve their educational and personal goals, plan brighter futures, and make a difference in the world.