man sitting between library book stacks

Gateway to a better future

A second chance and determination help UPEI student make the most of his opportunity

by Ty Stapleton

In the summer of 2014, Caleb MacKinnon opened a letter from the University of Prince Edward Island and read only the first line: "Congratulations! You’ve been accepted to UPEI..."

“And that’s all I could see on the acceptance letter," says Caleb. "My mom was the one who read through the whole thing and noticed I had been admitted to the Gateway program. She asked what it was.” 

UPEI’s Gateway program provides conditional acceptance to students with an academic average of less than 70 per cent on a full-time basis, offering tutorial and mentoring support while they take up to three courses per semester. Students meet with peer mentors and participate in workshops covering important skills including time management, study techniques, exam preparation, and others.

“I realized my enrolment would be different from my friends who had been accepted since my marks weren’t very good in Grade 12,” Caleb remembers. “It was a big deal for me just to be accepted.”

As a Grade 12 student, Caleb, by his own admission, wasn’t focused on academic success. He was heavily involved in drama and musicals while studying at Bluefield High School, and he focused on his busy performance schedule and active social life.

“When I was in high school, I wasn’t concerned with what I’d do after. I thought ‘no worries. If I fail this test I can do better next time.’ But then I wouldn’t, and then I’d say ‘I’ll do really well on the final exam’ and then I wouldn’t, and it was a cycle,” he says. “I didn’t think much of it until there wasn’t any time left, and I was graduating, and realizing I may not be able to get into university.”

Caleb wanted to make the most of this opportunity, so he challenged himself to work hard during his first semester at UPEI.

“Because I had a little (more) time than my friends taking five classes that semester, I would go to class, then do my assignments and homework from that class right after it. I’d go to the next class and do the same thing, and at the end of the day, I would review everything we had covered to that point. I did that for the whole semester.”

Caleb used what he learned during Gateway mentoring sessions and workshops to stay motivated and positive in his first semester. The results were encouraging.

“I think I was self-motivated to work hard that semester, and going to the Gateway sessions really helped. I remember constantly working with my friends I had met in the program, and we could relate to each other really well,” he says. “I was working toward graduating from the program early because I wanted to enrol in a full course load as soon as I could.”

“The mentors are really encouraging,” he says. “It’s always good to be encouraging, but in this program, it’s more important because these students want to succeed.”

Keith Lawlor, Gateway program co-ordinator, says the program’s success can be attributed in part to its student staff, and its ability to match program participants with mentors who excel in helping with academic and personal skills. The Gateway program recently expanded to help any UPEI student, no matter which year or program they’re in.

“Gateway’s mentoring and workshops are for any and all students who might benefit from these supports,” he says. “We schedule individual meetings with each student and talk about the kind of support they need. We consider class schedules, personalities, and shared experiences when finding a mentor that can help our students.”

For Caleb, the short time he spent in the program was the springboard he needed to succeed in university. He is one of only a handful of students to meet the requirements of the Gateway program early.

“The program was invaluable to me. I saw the program as an opportunity because the other schools I applied to didn’t give me that chance,” he says. “I was so grateful there was even a shot that I could attend university at all. I took it as an opportunity to do better, to grow as a student, and grow as a person.”

Now in his fourth year of an arts degree with a major in Psychology, Caleb is working toward a University Writing minor and browsing graduate school websites.

“After I graduate I want to go to for master's study in developmental or clinical psychology,” he says. “Looking at graduate schools is re-igniting that spark I had when I started in the Gateway program about succeeding and working hard.”

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