Selkirk College Nursing Program alumna Margaret Scaia has dedicated her professional life to the enhancement of education in her field and traces her passion for learning back to her days as a student in Castlegar.
Scaia began her career in nursing in 1994 when she enrolled in Selkirk College at the age of 40. Graduating in 1997—where she was awarded the distinguished Governor General’s Bronze medal for academic achievement—Scaia continued to pursue her education with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (UBC), a Master’s Degree from the University of Calgary and a PhD from the University of Victoria. Today she is a well-respected educator, known for her devotion to advancing the profession of nursing.
A well-respected nurse educator and graduate of the Selkirk College Nursing Program in 1997, Margaret Scaia will receive the honour of Distinguished Alumni at the Graduation 2015 Ceremony on April 24.
“The philosophy of the community colleges to reducing barriers to higher education in rural areas, I really admire that. In my experience that philosophy lives at Selkirk College,” she says of the early beginnings of her post-secondary journey.
This Friday, Scaia will be on stage at the Selkirk College Graduation 2015 Ceremony on the Castlegar Campus where she will receive the honour of Distinguished Alumni.
“The personal connection that the instructors made between themselves and the students stands out,” she says. “They had an amazing way of marking your progress and they were all very proud of us. You had a feeling they were concerned about your progress and supporting it.”
From Isolation to Education
Scaia grew up in Vancouver where she developed a love for the outdoors. Starting in 1976, she spent 20 years manufacturing outdoor equipment for Mountain Equipment Co-Op and Eco-Marine while living in remote locations of Hollyburn Mountain and Read Island.
With historical roots in the West Kootenay—her grandmother lived in Winlaw and her mother was born in Nelson—Scaia moved to Silverton in 1990 where she continued to embrace the remote outdoor lifestyle. By 1993, outsourcing of manufacturing by Mountain Equipment Co-Op made Scaia take a hard look at her future. While exploring her options, she came across the Selkirk College Nursing Program.
“It’s not a profession that is biased on the basis of age or gender,” she says. “It also has social relevance, so it seemed like a good bet.”
Having never attended post-secondary, Scaia remembers an entrance interview with then-department head Jill Harrop. When Scaia asked if she was too old, Harrop laughed and provided plenty of reassurance that age would not be a barrier to learning.
“It was a very supportive environment and the instructors were very positive,” she says. “Even though I was extremely anxious because I was living in backwater places since my early 20s, it was a very pro-learning environment and so encouraging.”
A Spark that Ignited a Career
Since stepping onto the launchpad at Selkirk College, Scaia’s passion for nursing has not waned. When she first left the West Kootenay, Scaia practiced nursing in a number of different areas including acute care, public health, mental health and as a community developer. But early in her career she realized it was nursing education that interested her most.
The study of nursing history has been a passion throughout her career and acts as a constant. She completed historical studies about motherhood in early times in Canadian history and in nursing education during her graduate and doctoral work. She is currently the President of the Canadian Association of the History of Nursing.
Scaia also has a keen interest in the areas of curriculum development and distance education where she has developed entire curricula. She is currently a senior instructor at the University of Victoria.
“I really see online learning as the modern key to reducing barriers for people in rural communities,” Scaia says. “The opportunity to complete a degree by distance, to do your masters and PhD by distance, that really opens the door for women in rural communities who often don’t have those opportunities at all.”
Scaia’s work has been published in several journal articles and book chapters over the years.
Tracing It Back to Selkirk College
Now 61, Scaia looks back on her decision to make an abrupt shift in her life two decades ago as transforming. As she gets ready to return to the West Kootenay for Graduation 2015, Scaia has some advice to offer those who may be in the same position.
“Time passes anyways, so if you envision that you want to be somewhere radically different in four years, that four years will pass regardless of whether you make a decision and set a goal or not,” says Scaia, who taught at Selkirk College in the 2002-2003 academic year. “You have to decide if that is a worthwhile goal for you, commit to it and then be prepared to withstand the traumas of such a big change. You have to realize that there will be a lot of challenges, but at the end of four years you will have what you set your goal to be. Keep focused on the outcome.”
As for the Distinguished Alumni honour, Scaia says she is deeply touched by the recognition.
“It’s meaningful because my time at Selkirk College was so meaningful at that point in my life,” she says. “If I hadn’t made that decision, I can’t think of how I would have had the opportunity to make a professional income and have the rewards of nursing. It was a launching pad and a time in my life, where because of the mandate of the community college and the quality of that nursing program, it changed every opportunity for me from that moment.”
The Selkirk College Graduation 2015 Ceremony will take place at the Castlegar Campus on Friday, April 24. Scaia will be joined on stage by fellow 2015 special award recipients John Armstrong (Distinguished Educator), Geoff Yule (Distinguished Alumni) and Alex Atamanenko (Honourary Diploma in Peace Studies).