How a high school dropout became a distinguished Practical Nursing student and a remarkable & selfless human being.
Tia Serdachny was not born into the best of circumstances. When she was only 14 years old, both her parents left – her mom to seek help for addictions and her father for work.
For a little girl with five brothers, losing her parents meant losing her anchor. She lost her place in the world, and with it, her direction in life. She dropped out of high school at the age of 16. She recalls, “I felt like I didn’t belong … I was easily distracted, lost interest in school and didn’t want to be there.”
HER JOURNEY TO VANCOUVER
When Tia was 18, she was inspired by characters in the book series “The Au Pairs.” Like the characters in the book, she moved from her hometown in Windsor, Ontario to Vancouver, BC to help a family raise two young boys. “At that time, I actually wanted to be an Early Childhood Educator,” she explained. “I wanted to work with kids, especially with special needs, who didn’t have the same opportunities as the other students.”
As the boys grew older, the family no longer required Tia’s services, and she was laid off. She found a job at a tanning salon where she met her boyfriend, Dylan. After dating for two months, they decided to move in together but struggled to make ends meet. “We had absolutely nothing,” she recalls. “It was difficult in the beginning, but we made it through. I helped put Dylan through school, and after he achieved his certification, it was time for me to take my life seriously.”
TIA’S FIGHT FOR HER CAREER
As Tia was considering her career options, she was drawn to Stenberg’s “I Changed Me” transit ads, particularly the one featuring Rupinder (Rupi) Bhangu. Rupi is a Licensed Practical Nurse and Stenberg Student of the Year winner of 2013. Rupi’s image piqued Tia’s curiosity and she immediately read Rupi’s story on Stenberg’s website and watched her video on YouTube.
“I saw her face in the ad at the Skytrain station and I knew that she was a real person with a real story. Her story made me cry and gave me hope. It made me believe in myself and realize that I had an opportunity… That was the coolest thing ever. The next morning, I made an appointment with Ashley, one of the Program Advisors at Stenberg.”
During that first appointment, Tia told Ashley that she has always wanted to help people and that she felt nursing was the right path for her. But it wasn’t always easy. Taylor shared some of the challenges that Tia faced during the early stages of the admission process. “Tia had to upgrade a number of high school courses when her GED credits from Ontario didn’t transfer over. Then the adult education system in BC went on strike. She also faced difficulties in qualifying for a student loan and was working full-time. Throughout all these challenges, Tia remained determined and continued to persevere with her dreams in mind.”
Tia started the daunting task of upgrading her education, one subject at a time. In just four months, she worked her way from Math 9 to Math 12. She remembers how hard she worked. “I worked from 6:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., and then, I would go to the learning centre from 3:00 p.m. until they closed at 10:00 p.m. so I could upgrade my education.” She then started upgrading her English on the weekends and took advantage of Stenberg’s free Biology 12 classes.
“Taking Bio 12 at Stenberg before I took the Practical Nursing program was the best decision I made because I was able to make connections with Stenberg teachers as well as students beforehand. I think about 10 students from our biology class entered the program.”
Despite the challenges, Tia stayed motivated and gave it her all to finish what she had set out to accomplish. She started the 74-week Practical Nursing Diploma program in October 2015, with the distinct goal to graduate with flying colours and to become the class valedictorian. Nothing would stop her from achieving her goals, and nothing did.
SHE SHONE LIKE A DIAMOND IN PRACTICAL NURSING
Despite her fortitude and can-do attitude, Tia was anxious about going back to school. Due to her past experiences with education, she lacked self-confidence. It wasn’t until her first course, possibly the most difficult in the entire program, that she realized her potential. “Anatomy & Physiology (A&P) was the first class that I took, and I passed with 97%. That day I realized, ‘Girl, you can do this if you want to.”
Practical Nursing is one of the most intensive programs at Stenberg, demanding a considerable commitment just to keep up with the pace of the course. Having graduated with an impressive grade point average of 94%, Tia explains, “We studied A&P for the first 30 days of the program. I spent six to nine hours reading every day because each day you’re learning a new organ system of the human body. Since I was in the 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. cohort, I’d stay on campus after the lecture to complete my homework assignments. We had until the next class, which is at 1:30 p.m. the next day, to take a quiz, which, again, counted toward our marks. I’d be doing homework until midnight to learn everything.”
“Her outlook on life and education was so positive and uplifting. She never allowed me to give up on myself. She was always dedicated to her work, and to the success of her fellow students.”
– A fellow student
She continued, “So much was based on your own learning because when you went to class the next day, you never touched that system again. Basically, whatever you learned the night before is what you learned, because you’re doing something different every day. The program, in a way, gets easier afterward because you build off of that knowledge. But during the first 30 days of the program, you have to give up your friends. You have to give up the gym. You have to give up everything. It’s sink or swim, but Stenberg provides a lot of help.”
A personification of Stenberg’s values, Tia herself became a big part of the student support system. Not only did she aspire to do her very best in school, she volunteered countless hours to help her classmates, and even students outside of her cohort succeed. Manpreet Athwal, Stenberg nursing grad, remembers, “Being only a term ahead of me, Tia had a lot of her own school work to keep up with but was always willing to help. Her outlook on life and education was so positive and uplifting. She never allowed me to give up on myself. She was always dedicated to her work, and to the success of her fellow students.”
“Tia is a true warrior in every sense of the word,” exclaimed Lisa Brown, Student Success Coordinator at Stenberg College. “She created her destiny!”
KINDNESS FROM A COMPASSIONATE HEART
All the education in the world cannot teach kindness. Kindness is often found in the smallest actions. Dennise Velasco, a classmate of Tia’s from Southill Adult Education Centre remembers, “I first met Tia at 7:30 on a Saturday morning. We were both upgrading English 12. I went there super early as I was nervous and noticed a girl sitting on the ground, eating something from Tim Hortons. I asked her if there was a Timmy’s close by. She replied that she purchased it closer to her home on her way to school, but if I was hungry, she would share her bagel with me. She showed me kindness without even knowing my name.”
Tia’s passion to help people emerges from the core of her being, and she has pursued this passion every step of the way, in every way that she could. Time and again, Tia has proven her desire, indeed her calling, to help others, whether it’s raising two young boys in a new city, helping fellow Practical Nursing students succeed in school, or offering her breakfast to a complete stranger.
Tia reflects on why she cares so much: “I would never, ever hurt anybody on purpose because of the way I’ve been hurt in my past.”
Stenberg nursing grad, Natasha Bhatara agrees. “She picked the perfect career for her herself and has truly changed her life for the better. The best reward you receive in nursing is helping others. That is a trait that comes effortlessly to Tia.”
Today, Tia is a proud nurse and helps people every day. She works full time at Surrey Memorial Hospital and is looking forward to taking the next step in her nursing career.