Stephanie Fernandes, sitting on a couch beside her dogIn the words of her nominators, valedictorian Stephanie Fernandes has been “exemplary in volunteerism and dedicated service to advance children’s education and welfare”. Throughout her time at MSVU, she has demonstrated exceptional leadership skills – across academics, athletics and in the broader community. Stephanie is set to make a big difference in the classroom and beyond when she graduates from MSVU with her Bachelor of Education degree in elementary education this spring.

She’s been a volunteer and presenter at the MSVU Family STEAM Day, a BEd International-National Job Search volunteer, and served as MSVU Curriculum Resource Centre Assistant. After the pandemic, she revived the BEd Student Society (serving as Elementary President) along with Maddie Partridge (Secondary President) and led several very successful social events for her peers. At the same time, Stephanie has demonstrated excellence in university athletics as a stand-out member of the MSVU Cross-Country Running Team. At the recent 2024 Best of the Blue awards celebrating exceptional MSVU athletes, Stephanie was named one of three 2024 Windsor Flash Trophy recipients for the highest GPA among MSVU student-athletes. She was also a 2022/23 recipient of a Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association National Scholar Award. She’s done all of this while holding multiple part-time jobs, tutoring, and volunteering in the community, including as the volunteer founder and leader of a running club at Chebucto Heights Elementary School.

Stephanie will deliver her valedictory address during the spring 2024 convocation on Friday, May 17 at 10 a.m. You can watch the ceremony via MSVU’s Facebook and YouTube pages. We asked Stephanie to tell us more about her time at MSVU and what’s next for her. Read on to learn more about Stephanie.

Hometown: Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, but I have been living in Halifax for 19 years and consider it home

Current City: Halifax, NS

Degree being awarded: Bachelor of Education (Elementary)

Previous education completed: Diploma of Travel, Tourism & Hospitality (Eastern College) and Bachelor of Arts (Dalhousie University)

Why did you choose to study at MSVU?

I was not willing to go to any other university, and MSVU is the only Halifax university that I could get a B.Ed. degree from. I told myself, prior to admissions, that I will be attending and graduating from MSVU.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Stephanie Fernandes posing beside the Windsor Flash TrophyI wanted to pursue many different professions, including being an ice-skater, journalist and a teacher. It was only when I was in my thirties that I decided on teaching. Partly due to one of my dearest friends (who is also a substitute teacher) Christine Thompson, who shared stories of her days as a substitute teacher.

Who are your academic and research mentors (either at MSVU or beyond)?

Dr. Erin Sparks, a psychology professor at Dalhousie University ignited my passion to learn more about child development and encouraged me to pursue a child-centred career.

While at MSVU, I have been taught by some amazing instructors and educators. Dr. Gerald Tembrevilla has shown me how to teach. He is inspirational in his teaching methods and always manages to engage his students with his current practices. Christina Flemming demonstrated the importance of knowing your students and that teaching is multidirectional – students learn from their teachers while teachers can also learn from their students. Dr. Andrea Fraser has helped me understand how children learn to read and speak, growing my confidence in teaching literacy. I am grateful for her lessons on implementing UFLI in the classroom.

The last academic mentor who had an impact on my life was Wendie Wilson. Her boldness and integrity make her an outstanding educator, and she is someone who constantly stands up for what she believes in, prompting me to do the same.

Jillian Jackson-Rutledge and Jennifer Heisler are two very important teachers who shaped my teaching style. Jillian was my first-year practicum associate teacher who ran her Grade 2 class with a kind heart and growth mindset. It was under her guidance that I was able to communicate effectively and engage students in a diverse classroom. In a challenging Grade 5 class, Jennifer became my rock. Thinking I was meant for lower elementary, I wanted to prove to myself that I could teach an upper elementary class. With a lot of determination and support from an amazing school team, I found my groove and earned the respect of my students. Jennifer always reminded me to take it one day at a time and that self-care is important, especially for a teacher.

What class, professor, project or learning activity has held the most meaning for you? Why?

Foundations of Education (Christina Flemming) was memorable due to its structure. It allowed us to be open with each other and focus more on who we are as future educators while making connections from various writing pieces. There was also Advance Curriculum and Instructional Language Arts (Elementary) both taught by Dr. Andrea Fraser where I comprehensively learned the fundamentals of reading and speech including how to assess a child’s reading ability.

What is your favourite location on campus and why?

My favourite campus spot is the Curriculum Resource Centre in Seton. Not only did I work there, but I also had the privilege to work with Cate Carlyle who has been a huge support in my education journey. Used mostly by Child and Youth Study and B.Ed students, the CRC has a wealth of resources that I used during my degree. Most days, it’s a quiet spot, but it also is the host for educational events and seminars at MSVU.

Do you have any favourite stories about your time at MSVU?

Stephanie Fernandes, running in a MSVU cross-country competitionOne of my favourite moments at MSVU was seeing Michelle Obama at the Scotiabank Centre. It was an unforgettable moment. I also got the opportunity to participate in the 2023 CCAA Cross-Country Championships last November. This was the highlight of my cross-country season as I got to compete with some of Canada’s best athletes in my home province.

Do you have any advice for current students or people considering going to MSVU?

My advice to current and prospective students is to make the most of your time at MSVU. My two years went by quickly and I came in wanting to soak up every moment and really push myself to strive for the best.

Have you always been a high-achieving student academically? What obstacles, if any, did you overcome while attending MSVU? What kept you motivated?

I’ve always been a student with high expectations. Being a mature student, I have a different perspective on what my academic journey should look like. In the past, balancing academics and a social life has been an obstacle. I do my best to stay organized and on top of deadlines, ensuring that I still have time to spend with my family and friends. My motivation comes from my sister who has been my greatest supporter. When I’m feeling overwhelmed, she reminds me that I am getting closer to achieving my goal. I spend a lot of free time with my dogs, whether it’s going for a hike or a quick evening run. They have become a great distraction from a busy life.

If you could share just one piece of advice with your pre-Mount self, what would it be?

Stephanie Fernandes in a group photo at an MSVU socialMy advice to my pre-Mount self: be present in the moment, try new things and get ready to meet some like-minded people who will become life-long friends.

What is your proudest accomplishment?

This is something I have thought about recently. I have two accomplishments that I feel extremely proud of. First, is being honoured as class valedictorian for my program. This was not something that I had even considered until this academic year.

Second and just as phenomenal as the first accomplishment, is being offered a term job at my practicum school starting in September. My goal going into my degree was to get a job in my community and that is exactly what I successfully achieved. Community is an integral part of my life and I am beyond grateful to be part of Chebucto Heights School in Spryfield.

What does being named valedictorian mean to you?

Being named valedictorian is a role that I am honoured to step into. It means someone that always strives for excellence, but who also knows that it’s okay to ask for help. It means someone who is always willing to put in the extra work and help others, but still has challenges of their own to overcome.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I see myself working as a permanent teacher and also upgrading my degree to a Master’s. I have already been looking at programs that MSVU offers.

What’s next for you?

I am currently working as a substitute teacher at my practicum school, as well as working a part-time serving job. I plan to spend my summer studying UFLI and building my future Grade 1 class library. I am no stranger to taking trips and will be planning a little getaway at the end of the summer.