Balancing a full-time job, volunteering, and higher education is tough, but in the end, you come out of it with extraordinary life experience. To show you what’s possible if you stick with it, we are excited to highlight how Charles Bernatchez has thrived since completing his degree.
HigherEdPoints: Tell us a bit about your academic journey.
Charles Bernatchez: I went to the University of Alberta and took a bachelor of science with a specialization in actuarial sciences. Not everyone knows what we do, but at the core, we’re applying statistical methods to assess risk in insurance, finance, and other industries. A lot of math! Also, while I was in school I worked a full-time job and was involved in the Army Cadet program.
HigherEdPoints: That sounds pretty busy! Would love to hear more about your journey through the Cadet program as well.
Charles Bernatchez: My father was in the military and so being in an army family I’ve always had a certain level of interest in the army. When I was 12 I joined the army cadet program and I’m so glad I did – it helped me grow a lot personally and taught me a lot of important life skills.
When I left in 2007, because I’d aged out, I came back as a volunteer. I finished that up this past summer, but while I was involved I held several positions such as instructor, public relations, administration, and even coached the marksmanship team to the national competition a few times.
One of my favourite parts as a cadet was that every year we would go on 3-4 training exercises. We’d go into the field for a weekend or longer to learn survival skills. In the summer we would often be selected to go to summer camp for two to eight weeks – one year I actually went to Sweden for one of these trips.
That trip was incredible, my favourite memory was definitely when we biked around on World War II bikes for a weekend.
HigherEdPoints: Thats amazing, it’s great to have that level of personal development early on. So you mentioned work, what were you doing?
Charles Bernatchez: The first couple years of university I was a night auditor for a hotel and worked the graveyard shift. Then right after that I started tutoring students with disabilities, that was a really rewarding experience.
HigherEdPoints: Tell us more about the tutoring. Why did you get involved and what were your favourite memories?
Charles Bernatchez: I was looking for a job with more flexible work hours and that’s where I came across this opportunity to tutor students with disabilities. It was perfect for me at the time and I enjoyed helping these students so much that once I left to start my actual career, I continued doing it on the side as volunteer work.
It’s such a rewarding feeling when you can help someone break through. So many of these students get written off by society, but when you sit down and work with them – they’re all really intelligent and have their own unique gifts. Being able to help them realize that they have that ability is the greatest feeling.
HigherEdPoints: Is there one specific experience with a student that was really rewarding?
Charles Bernatchez: I was working with one of my students to help her through Calculus, but she had short-term memory problems. We would have a session and then at the next session, it was as if the last session never happened. To help her we started experimenting with different learning strategies. One of them was using colours to help categorize different parts of equations and problems, this made a huge difference because they connected with a different part of her memory.
We even tried this colour coding in one of her non-math class and she went from getting 50-60s to 80-90s. Coming up with these learning strategies taught me a lot about people and about myself. It was one of the most rewarding and favourite jobs I’ve ever had.
HigherEdPoints: You mentioned earlier that you’ve started your long-term career, what are you doing for work?
Charles Bernatchez: A year out of school I started working at Morneau Shepell in their pension administration division as an actuarial analyst. I was mostly working on one of the company’s largest clients, Alberta Pension Services Corporation (APSC). Interestingly, that’s actually where I work now. APSC administers 7 different pension plans, so there was a lot of information to learn and work to juggle initially.
HigherEdPoints: What’s your day to day job like?
Charles Bernatchez: Before what I would do is help integrate the system to properly calculate the pension benefits, I would test the calculations and such. I also trained APSC on how to use the system. I transitioned now to actually working for APSC as a client operations analyst and I spend my days solving problems. I look for inefficiencies in how they operate and try to address that while also improving the customer experience. It’s not directly related to actuarial sciences but I’m actually focusing on progressing through my actuarial exams right now with the support of APSC.
HigherEdPoints: You’ve got some great work experience since finishing school, but a degree is really expensive. How were you funding your higher education at the time?
Charles Bernatchez: In addition to the hotel and tutoring work I had a lot of student loans from Alberta and the Federal Government, I also needed to get a student line of credit and max out a couple of credit cards because one year I wasn’t able to get those student loans. There were definitely many sources of money, I even had friends lending me money.
HigherEdPoints: With all these options, when did you find out about HigherEdPoints?
Charles Bernatchez: A few years after I graduated I got some direct email from the student loans office telling me that I could use my Aeroplan points to pay off parts of my loan. I was blown away that I could do this. I was responsible for a lot of the expenses through the volunteer work that I do, so I would throw it on my American Express card which gives me a lot of points. I was averaging easily 100,000 points a year. I don’t remember how many I’ve redeemed with HigherEdPoints.com exactly, but it’s saved me at least $2,500 off my student loans already.
HigherEdPoints: Tell us more about this volunteer work you’re doing, it sounds exciting!
Charles Bernatchez: This last summer,I’ve stepped away from the army cadet volunteering, and I am now with the No Stone Left Alone Memorial Foundation (NSLA). We help educate students and honour the veterans who have served and since passed away by placing poppies at their headstones every November.
During remembrance week we bring students from across the country to various cemeteries around Canada to lay down a poppy on each soldier’s headstone, saying their name out loud, then observe the moment of silence. It gives that student a new perspective about remembering because they actually remember a name.
HigherEdPoints: That’s an amazing cause, how did you get involved and what were the most memorable parts?
Charles Bernatchez: One day I was looking at the news online and saw a clip from a ceremony NSLA was putting on and thought “Wow what a unique way of remembering these soldiers”. At the time I was working with the cadets and I thought there must be some way for us to collaborate with this. After that I reached out to NSLA and we built up a partnership between them and our cadet unit.
Even after leaving the cadet program I still support what their mission is and get involved where I can. Right now I’m involved with the main ceremony that they put on here in Edmonton as well as help establish a professional structure to help the organization grow its worldwide momentum.
HigherEdPoints: It was a pleasure chatting with you today Charles! You’re doing some incredible work and your story is truly inspiring, best of luck with your actuarial exams.
About HigherEdPoints.com: Founded in 2013 with the aim to help students and families tap into new and innovative sources of funds for education, HigherEdPoints is the first company in the world to enable the conversion of loyalty points into funds for tuition and student loan repayments. To learn more visit HigherEdPoints.com
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