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If you’re looking for inspiration on how to not only be an exemplary citizen in your community, but in school and in your personal life, look no further than VIU student Vantaisha (Taish) Tommy.

Tommy is being recognized for her community service and commitment to her studies after being awarded the Mike Coleman Award for Citizenship. She is currently in the Adult Basic Education (ABE) program at VIU’s Cowichan campus and has dreams of becoming a wildlife veterinarian after she graduates. It’s a dream she knows she can achieve, as her passion for protecting the rights and habitats of animals around the world runs deep.

“Attending VIU Cowichan has changed me in the best of ways,” Tommy says. “I’m no longer as shy as I used to be, and I don’t feel judged or embarrassed to ask for help. I gained the courage and eagerness to be able to speak up during classes, to ask questions or answer them, as well as express my ideas.”

She credits the professors at VIU’s Cowichan campus, who made her feel welcome and let her know her opportunities were endless. It’s mutual praise, as Tommy’s professors commend her hard work and talk about the positivity she brings to each of her classes.

Dan Vaillancourt, one of Tommy’s ABE instructors, says, “Taish is a warm and friendly person who brings a positive and calming effect to her classes. She is very approachable, understanding, and is a quiet leader. She sets the tone for meaningful and respectful participation in the classroom and is supportive of her fellow students. It has been a pleasure to watch her grow in confidence over the past few years to become a contributing member of the VIU community.”

Tommy has overcome incredible odds, as she was out on her own at the age of 17, and was forced to drop out of high school to pay rent. When she had her son at 19, she knew she had to give him the best life possible, so she laid out a 10-year plan for herself. Her goal is to obtain a master’s degree, and eventually a PhD.

“I enrolled in the Adult Basic Education Program at VIU so I could graduate, which I have done, and now I am taking physics and chemistry, which I will need to pursue my bachelor’s degree,” Tommy says. “I did a lot of research on careers and working with animals. A lot of opportunities will open up to me when I become a wildlife veterinarian. It will allow me to work with small animals as well as big animals such as elephants, lions, and bears.”

She looks forward to working at aquariums, rehabilitation centres, and clinics around the world.

Despite her workload, Tommy makes sure to carve out time to support her community. She has been actively involved in bottle drives, auctions, car washes, bake sales, renovations, parking lot and driveway shovelling, Cowichan Tribe Elder’s lunches, community clean-up activities, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, and volunteering at a local soup kitchen.

“I am ecstatic and grateful for the award,” Tommy says. “It’s heartwarming to see the impact I have made on the whole school.”

The Mike Coleman Award for Citizenship was established 20 years ago by former Duncan mayor Mike Coleman as a way to encourage young people to strive to do well academically and get involved in the community.

Coleman believes it is important to encourage community involvement and commitment and to recognize the students who step up and offer their support.

“I have been really impressed with the students who have won the award over the years,” Coleman says. “The more encouragement we can give our young people the better off society is. That’s why I continue to support the award, recognizing their contributions is an investment in the future of the community.”

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