– Matthew Hand knew that pursuing a post-secondary education meant many sacrifices and challenges; however, he knew these would be short-lived and help achieve what he hopes is a better life and legacy for his children.
The 27-year-old native of St. John’s attends College of the North Atlantic’s (CNA) Burin campus and is enrolled in the Welding Engineering Technology program. He has been named one of 10 CICan (Colleges and Institutes Canada) Paul and Gerri Charette Bursary Program $5,000 award recipients in Canada.
Prior to the province’s second pandemic-related lockdown this month, Hand was living in the campus’s residence, while his partner of 10 years, Rebecca, and two children (aged seven and four) continued to live in the St. John’s region. To thicken the fiscal plot, his spouse is also a full-time CNA student enrolled in the Medical Radiography program.
Returning to college isn’t an easy decision during the best of times, but throw in a pandemic, a young family, and a spouse who is also pursuing a post-secondary education, and the situation becomes a little more challenging. Hand modestly says he was holding down the fort while his partner went to school, worked a part-time job, and studied for at least three hours a day. This gave him a glimpse of what he was in for once he decided to pursue his education in September 2020.
His decision to apply for Welding Engineering Technology was expedited once the pandemic hit last year, especially since the apprentice wasn’t getting any welding work. Nothing was holding him back. His interest in welding was still alive and he wanted to branch out into the inspection aspect. Up to that point, he was a labourer and while the money was ok, he wanted something different.
A mature student (or as he calls it, “being the old man of the class”) and having worked for several years, Hand developed a work ethic and some skills – part of which was staying on top of information by checking his college and D2L (Desire2Learn) emails daily. He had seen other scholarships and award offerings; however, he didn’t meet the criteria. That is until one day when information about the Paul and Gerri Charette Bursary Program appeared in his inbox. Excited, and with little time to meet a deadline that was three days away, he set to work applying for it and gathering the supporting documentation to accompany it, such as writing a personal essay and securing three reference letters (one of which was from CNA President & CEO Liz Kidd).
Hand approached the application with a neutral mindset and didn’t expect anything knowing there were only 10 winners being chosen from across Canada. Hand figured he had as good a shot as anyone and was happy with the work he’s put into his program. The essay part was easy – his wife and kids are his top priority and securing a future for them soon spilled over into words on paper.
A couple of months later, while in the campus’s cafeteria, Hand received a call from Anna Peddle, CNA’s Manager of Alumni and Advancement, sharing the great news that he was the winner. He adds that being the only one from Newfoundland and Labrador, in addition to being CNA’s representative, was a big deal. Knowing that he won was a full circle moment.
“I have years of developing as a person and (gaining skills) from the work ethic I’ve built,” said Hand. “I’ve been very lucky to have great mentors while working. It carried over in multiple aspects of my life, not just writing and welding. Years of building these skills, good habits and developing good relationships with people, trying to be a positive influence, while putting effort in where it counts – it all came to fruition in that moment. I was really proud of it for that reason.”
For Peddle, she says it was one of the best phone calls she’s made in her career at the college.
“When I read Matthew’s story, I was moved by the level of commitment and sacrifice he was willing to make – all in the best interest of his family – to build a better future,” Peddle said. “We are incredibly proud of Matthew and students like him, who don’t let anything stand in their way. Delivering the news of his win was a special moment and I am sure it sets him up for continued success as he completes his program in Burin.”
Here is an excerpt of Hand’s essay:
“Now while in school, sacrifices must be made and it’s going to be tough, not just financially but mentally as well. Our incomes have been reduced solely to student loans. So, if there is any chance to reduce the financial burden during this time then you know I am going to take it.
This is critical in so many situations, whether it be for our youngest daughter so she can attend her dance lessons, or for our oldest daughter so she can attend her gymnastics lessons. For my wife, who had knee surgery earlier this year and needs to attend physio when her knee acts up. Even for me, because my decision to go to school means I need to live 3 hours away from my family and must pay for a taxi every week to see them for 1-2 days. Money can be stretched far if you’re smart, and even though I consider myself a smart fellow, every penny counts …
… A lot is being sacrificed so my wife and I can get better educations, but at the end of the day every decision we make is to set our kids up to be successful in the future. It may be difficult now, but these hardships will be worth it in the long run. There is nothing that I wouldn’t do for my children, and hopefully I’ve set my kids up on a path so that they can do the same for their kids.”
Hand says he and Rebecca have worked hard over the years, made smart choices, and have always had a great support system when it comes to his family’s financial picture. He doesn’t have immediate plans for the windfall and will tuck it away for their future.
College of the North Atlantic