Harry Bellemare graduated in June (of 2022), with a B.A. in Psychology and plans to study at St. Lawrence College starting in September. While we talked, Harry candidly confessed that “there were times that I didn’t think I was going to finish,” (his B.A in Psychology). But there is more than one path to finish a degree, and success is not always defined in a linear way.

Harry Bellemare at his graduation ceremony, wearing graduation gown and collar

Harry Bellemare at his convocation from Carleton, June 2022

“I got my moneys-worth – learned a lot about what I like and what I don’t like. Sometimes I wish it hadn’t taken quite so long.”

Harry started his time at Carleton as a part of the Enriched Support Program (ESP). ESP accepts students who have the potential to excel at university but who do not meet the traditional entrance requirements. The program allows students to work with a reduced course load and includes academic coaching and advisors as well as workshops to support the transition to university classrooms. All of the courses that students complete during their ESP year count towards their degree. ESP students who complete this first year successfully are then able to stream into a degree program (CGPA requirements for this vary by program and faculty).

“Whoever was reading [my application] must have thought I was still somewhat innocent,” Harry told me, referencing the essays he wrote about his goals and how ESP could help to make them achievable, as a part of the ESP application process. “I thought everything was going to go smoothly.” By all counts, finishing a degree leaves a solid argument to be made that everything went exactly according to plan, though perhaps not the same plan that existed at the start. Harry completed the first year of ESP and then opted to also stay with the program for a second, “[relying] on pretty much everything that ESP had to offer in terms of helping [him] succeed.” Harry completed two years in the ESP and successfully streamed into his degree program.

The Paul Menton Centre (PMC) bridges the gap so that all students can access their education equitably. Accommodations and services are individualized to each PMC student’s disability-related learning needs, based on disability documentation and discussion(s) with their PMC Coordinator. Harry had an IEP in high school and registered with PMC right away. “I’ve lived with a disability since I was born,” Harry shrugged as he told me. “I wonder if, in some ways, it’s easier for me to accept help.” I asked if there was anything that he wishes everyone knew about the PMC and/or registering with the centre. He started with, “I don’t particular know how to answer this one,” and went on, “but […] if anybody feels like they could benefit from accommodations, you aren’t losing anything by asking about it. There’s no shame.” After pondering for a moment he added, “it’s not a guarantee that everyone will [be eligible to] receive accommodations [from the PMC]. But at least somebody making that effort [to ask] will maybe learn something about themselves.”

Carleton has been long-recognized for fostering a culture of accessibility with the physical campus itself, with the tunnel systems, being very literally rooted in it. There is always room left to grow. The PMC offers a wide-range of accommodations and services for registered students, covering everything from extra time for tests and exams, to supplemental classroom notes, to individualized learning strategies support. The 10-year graduation rates for PMC students actually exceed those of the general student body.

“On paper I wouldn’t have accepted me to university, either,” Harry noted with a laugh at one point during our conversation. But the point of PMC and ESP and Carleton’s culture is to recognize that there is a bigger picture than paper is sometimes able to tell. “In the final year of finishing up my electives I took a course called Introduction to Computational Thinking. Up until then I didn’t really know what I wanted to do after university, [but]… I loved this course enough that starting in September, I will be studying computer programming at St. Lawrence [college].”

Lynette Wilson
Carleton University
Published Wednesday, July 13, 2022