"Whatever I learn, I try to find a way to fit it into my own life experiences. In this way, I can more easily relate to and recall what I have learned" said Tanya Montebello, winner of the 2016 J.D. Leslie Prize when asked what her secret to achieving such high marks was. In comparing her online experiences to a traditional classroom Montebello said "I prefer studying online because it allows for more freedom to manage other aspects of my personal life... and cuts down on expenses."
The J. D. Leslie Prize is awarded to the graduating student who has achieved a first-class standing and who has earned 50% or more of the credits for his or her undergraduate degree through online courses. This $1,000 prize is named for the late Dr. James D. Leslie who began the University of Waterloo's Correspondence Program in 1968 (now the Centre for Extended Learning). It’s awarded annually at the fall convocation ceremony.
Tanya began her studies in 1998, taking time to “travel abroad wherever possible, although it's challenging to fit in while studying.” Some of that travel included five tours in Afghanistan as a civilian in support of the Canadian Forces, returning to Waterloo in 2013 after finishing her last tour. When she isn’t travelling or studying, she also volunteers with the Durham Rape Crisis Centre.
A lot changed between her first course and her last, “When I first started, I was part of the mail-in system (cassette tapes, [and] mailing in paper assignments!)” Through it all a few things managed to keep her motivated above all else, "The faith that I would finally get my degree; a desire to finish what I had started; and, knowing that I would be one step closer to getting my [Bachelor of Social Work].”
To those who would consider following in her footsteps Tanya offers this advice: "Remember what a privilege it is to learn! See the opportunity as a gift. Reflecting on this will help you to stay committed. Try to take courses that are meaningful to you because you will enjoy the process more and it will become easier to succeed…and never stop asking questions and thinking critically about important issues.”