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A commitment to lifelong learning can be the key to success

In a year marked by constant change, The Chang School recognizes leaders in continuous learning
By: Surbhi Bir
December 15, 2020
A man sits at a table typing on his computer

Robert Valela received the Lloyd and Daphne Chin-Loy Award in Mental Health and Addictions at the annual Leaders in Learning awards.

If there’s one thing this year has taught us, it’s to adapt to new and changing circumstances. At The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education, students have been opening new doors by strengthening their skill sets to adjust with the times. Whether it’s building, improving or switching careers, students can keep up with the future through continuous learning. 

On Nov. 25, the annual Chang School Leaders in Learning award ceremony recognized 53 such learners for their outstanding academic performance, community engagement and leadership. 

“Each year, Leaders in Learning is our opportunity to celebrate the outstanding achievements of continuing education students,” said Gary Hepburn, dean of The Chang School. “Given the unique challenges presented by the pandemic, the accomplishments of this year’s 53 award recipients is truly remarkable. Their commitment to continuous learning as demonstrated through community involvement and academic achievement are an inspiration to us all.”

Robert Valela, recipient of the Lloyd and Daphne Chin-Loy Award in Mental Health and Addictions, registered for the certificate in mental health and addictions to keep expanding his knowledge of psychology. 

“The more you learn, the more you know. Knowledge can help you understand people’s experiences, views and opinions. When you understand where someone’s coming from, you can provide them with information that will be useful,” he said.

Valela’s own personal experiences motivated him to dedicate his career to helping people cope with trauma and addiction. Having also completed a certificate in psychology last year, he hopes to eventually get a master’s in counseling psychology, become a registered psychologist and open his own practice.

“While experiencing one of the most challenging times of my life, Ryerson's community provided me with support and guidance,” Valela said. “I felt as if I was stuck in a maze. But completing my education became my goal. With something to strive toward, and the support and guidance in place, I found a way out of the maze.”

Valela is a project manager for Couple HOPES at Ryerson’s IMPACT Lab, while also serving as an intelligence officer in the Royal Canadian Navy. He volunteers 20 hours each month as a crisis and supportive counselling responder for the Distress Centres of Greater Toronto, external link and the Canadian Suicide Prevention Service, external link – delivering crisis, emotional support, suicide prevention, intervention and postvention services. 

“The Lloyd and Daphne Chin-Loy Award in Mental Health and Addictions will help me continue to support and guide others as they make life-affirming choices, overcome their challenges, and find a way out of their maze,” Valela said.

Anthony Israelstam

Anthony Israelstam received the CESAR Academic Excellence and Achievement Award at the annual Leaders in Learning awards.

After working in financial services for more than four years, Anthony Israelstam realized he was more interested in writing and communications. A few aptitude and personality tests confirmed the idea and he registered for The Chang School’s certificate in public relations

For Israelstam, receiving the CESAR Academic Excellence and Achievement Award is truly a fulfilling accomplishment after being diagnosed with a learning disability earlier this year.

“I went for vocational and IQ testing to determine why I was having certain problems learning. It turns out that I had an undiagnosed learning disability. I always thought that things that were difficult, were difficult because they had to be. As it turns out, I had been unknowingly putting in extra effort to achieve high grades during my undergrad,” Israelstam said.

His time at Ryerson has helped him cope with major challenges and personal struggles, he says, as being busy and productive prevented him from giving up on his goals because of sadness and stress.

“One of my sisters was diagnosed with lyme disease, and the other found a tumour. This saddened me to the extent that I started to develop OCD symptoms. I didn't think I would be able to cope, but I pushed through like my parents have always taught me to do,” Israelstam said. “I stayed focused on activities that I found stimulating, such as reading a book a month, colouring books, writing creatively, and networking as much as possible.” 

In addition, Israelstam volunteered with Santa Comes to Bay Street, external link, bagging essential items for those in need. He also used to lend his writing services to Do a Barrel Roll, a non-profit that attempted to connect troubled youths with video games, in order to build a community. 

The next challenge is to forge a career in public relations. Israelstam has “been busy networking with professionals and making contacts in the industry.” He’s excited to start an internship with a public relations agency soon. 

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