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Meeting Lesley Miller, you’re immediately struck by her intelligent eyes, quiet confidence and strong, healthy demeanor. You probably wouldn’t be surprised to learn that she’s studying health and nutritional science.
Like many young people diving into post-secondary education for the first time, Lesley’s face lights up as she talks about her chosen field—the biochemistry of foods and how diet relates to the aging of cells and chronic diseases. Speak to her for a few minutes, and you can’t help but share her anticipation to start a Bachelor of Science program in Food, Nutrition and Health at the University of British Columbia this fall.
Unlike many students, however, Lesley’s path did not follow a straight line from high school to university. In fact, her educational journey took its first of many twists and turns before she was even old enough to choose the course.
With mixed feelings, Lesley describes growing up in Ohio where she and her brother were home-schooled. Even though her father had worked as a schoolteacher, Lesley remembers her parents disapproving of many aspects of the American public school system, and wanting to give their kids the freedom to focus on their own talents and interests. “There was method to the madness,” she says.
Even today in the state of Ohio, however, home-schooled students do not automatically obtain a recognized high school diploma. And so, following a lifelong love of books, reading and school supplies, at the age of 17, Lesley finished studying without any official documents or transcripts. While she still had the option to write equivalency tests and obtain a GED, Lesley remembers being confused about the process, as well as insecure about entering an academic institution for the first time in her life.
While still in her early 20’s, Lesley ended up moving to Vancouver with her husband who works in the film industry. “We just packed up the car and said ‘Here we go! We’re moving to Canada!’”
Only a few years into her new Canadian life, however, Lesley’s father passed away, much too young, from cancer. According to Lesley, her father’s death had a major impact on the whole family. While there was no way to know what specifically caused her father’s illness, Lesley, her husband and her mother all experienced it as a wake-up call to drastically improve their food and lifestyle choices. It was then that Lesley also developed her passion to study the relationship between food systems, nutrition and health. “It changed me forever,” she says.
With a newfound drive for learning, Lesley immediately began looking into Bachelor of Science programs specializing in nutrition. When talking to university advisors, however, Lesley soon learned that most admissions systems had no way of accommodating someone without official high school records to submit. “They weren’t really sure what to do with me!” she says. “And so, I came to VCC.”
After speaking with a VCC program advisor, however, Lesley says she was instantly encouraged and relieved. “It was the first time that I didn’t have to explain myself,” she says. “Everybody here comes from a different place. There are so many types of students, filling in holes, taking the classes they need. I just felt accepted.”
It’s been about a year and a half since Lesley first entered the self-paced Academic Upgrading/High School programs at VCC. She’s worked especially hard in mathematics and sciences—areas that never received much focus at home. Through courses both at VCC and at Langara College, Lesley has now earned the credentials needed to enter university and been accepted to UBC’s Bachelor of Science program in Food, Nutrition and Health.
When asked how she feels about tackling subjects like calculus and chemistry at a university level, Lesley doesn’t hesitate for a moment. “I’m excited,” she says, laughing. “It’s like a big demon that I will slay!”
Looking back on her winding, decade-long journey from home-school in Ohio to university in Vancouver, Lesley finds she’s gained a unique and valuable perspective. “It’s taken me this long to really become comfortable with obstacles,” she says. “So you want something? The first thing you need to do is break the process down into tiny little steps and start with the smallest thing. Don’t let obstacles overcome you. Overcome the obstacles.”