Student Learning SupportThoughts, Feelings

Finding Your Flourish: Deena’s Perspective on Jonah’s Story

Join Jonah on RU Student Life as he personally shares his search for academic success, then come back to read Deena’s reflection on how Jonah’s journey to flourishing inspired her.


I’d like to say that reading Jonah’s story brings back to my mind his journey and our working together for more than a year, but the truth is that his experiences are often fresh for me and at the fore of my thinking. He has made a lasting impact: the ways in which Jonah navigated the services of Academic Accommodation Support (AAS) and Student Learning Support (SLS) at large were so thoughtful, intentional, and effective, he serves as a “best practice student.”

When Jonah and I started engaging in learning strategy sessions, they weren’t always easy. There were some moments of resistance—“that’s not going to work for me,” or, “I don’t really like working that way”—and these were very common, but soon, Jonah took on the wholeheartedness and openness crucial for strategy work to, well, work. I remember crafting schedules with him, trying to help create a balance between Jonah’s classes, job, and significant commute. We met biweekly and it didn’t take long for Jonah to demonstrate that he was keen and committed.

This infographic describes the journey Jonah took from struggling to success. He started by going to Academic Accommodation Support to help with his academic needs, which in turn led him to other learning supports including writing and study skills, but also taught him related skills outside the classroom, like strategies for accountability and using time outside of class effectively. All these worked together to lesson his anxiety and increase his confidence, making graduation not only a possibility, but one through which Jonah flourished! In school and beyond!

Jonah’s journey with learning support and success. Click to expand.

But even more than this diligent efforts were two aspects of his approach to learning that continue to affect me. First, Jonah understood early on that the nature of learning strategy work was to cultivate a “toolbox” of academic skills such that the student turns to such sessions less and less; learning strategy sessions are fundamentally finite, and Jonah made fulsome use of each meeting. Of his own agency, Jonah began spacing appointments with me further and further apart. They went from every two weeks to once every three to once a month to twice a semester. All of this was done very intentionally, and by Jonah’s clear and mature decision-making. Second, he took on and tried out the strategies we co-created, but more than that, he set out and met additional goals, like building confidence, speaking out more, and telling his story.

Jonah notably developed these skills when he agreed to serve as a student panellist for the SHIFT program, allowing incoming first year students to ask myriad questions about what to expect. Not only did Jonah answer the SHIFTees’ questions with insight, he held the room, gave great advice, and then stayed on through lunch and into the afternoon in order to connect and support the eager, nervous first years.

When I think of Jonah, what comes to mind is both true upward trajectory—he continues to thrive and flourish—and also the model way he used our services. Always thoughtful, considered, and respectful, he was early to every session, polite in every email, and this continues, as he visits Mandy, myself, and the AAS team to let us know of his continued successes, and continued gratitude.

One final and lasting experience with Jonah is his poignant question early on in our learning strategy work together. Perhaps prompted by a SHIFT poster or Portage promo blurb hanging on the wall—I can no longer remember the prompt—Jonah and I chatted about AAS’ transition programming. When he asked why it was only for first year students, and why there wasn’t anything for those who were transferring, I could respond with nothing more than, “I don’t know, but that’s a fantastic idea!” From this brief but poignant aside in a session now several years ago, the idea of an array of SHIFT programs is finally on the table: SHIFT In (for first year, as we currently offer), SHIFT Through (midstream transfers), SHIFT On (grad school), SHIFT Into (students seeking internships, co-op, and experiential opportunities), SHIFT Out (to part-time, full-time, or freelance/start-up/entrepreneurial opportunities), and perhaps even SHIFT Back/Beyond (alumni programs) and SHIFT With or Toward (direct entry). All of these hopes—and someday-soon programs—emerged in part from the spark of Jonah’s question.

It has been a privilege to work with Jonah, to watch unfold such intentional and successful use of the expertise housed in SLS, to bear witness to his moments of reaching and successes, and now to hear him return with stories of awards, research opportunities, and professional recognition. Bravo, Jonah! And, deep gratitude for all that you have taught me!