BRANDON, MB — With Toronto shimmering on his horizon, new Brandon University alumnus Chris Bentley is content to close the current chapter of his life. After four years of studying at his hometown university, the 24 year old has graduated with honours. In fact, he is the 2012 recipient of the Silver Medal in History for attaining the best academic performance in this area of study. Though he loved his time at BU, he is prepared to tackle his next goal and is strategically moving forward in his academic career.
“I want to start researching and publishing and getting (papers) out there, as soon as I can,” said Bentley. “And I think I’m ahead of the game because of what BU has given me, including the personal attention you get.”
However, university studies were not always topmost on Bentley’s mind.
When he graduated from Crocus Plains Regional Secondary School in 2006, he was not quite ready to embark on more studies. Instead, at the tender age of 18, he got some life experience by teaching in a remote area in China. After two years overseas, he returned to Brandon and embarked on a journey not only of knowledge, but also of self-discovery.
He chose Brandon University for many reasons, notwithstanding the fact that he could be close to his family and friends. His experiences in China inspired him to become a teacher in earnest and he had heard that the education program at BU was very good. So, he initially planned to pursue an education degree, after a three-year degree in English.
“I first saw (my undergrad years) as this in-and-out kind of experience before going into education, then I would really start my life,” he said. “But no. It was at BU, that the very amazing, knowledgeable, personal, helpful faculty in the history department opened my eyes in a lot ways — to new ideas, new ways of thinking about the world, possibilities, and about my own education and the education I give to others.”
History became his new focus and through his studies, he has come to define this area of study very differently. Like many, he thought history was lists of dates, facts and events in the distant past.
“History to me now is something that is dynamic and very much happening now. It’s a way of understanding critically so much of the world, systems, governments and societies,” Bentley said. “It just complements my education goals so well. I don’t want to be a public school teacher (any more). I want to pursue some of these ideas and I don’t want them to be limited to my experience. I want to expand on these and look at them more critically in education.”
For two and a half years, while studying at BU, Bentley taught adult English-as-an-Additional-Language (EAL) classes at Westman Immigrant Services (WIS). His students appreciated his fun-loving, personable nature as well as his innate teaching skills.
“Chris is a born performer/teacher sort of person. He was very comfortable with the adult learners, very kind and was always willing to learn. Through this, he discovered that he’s interested in adult education and that’s what he wants to pursue,” said Doreen Cooper, the language program coordinator at WIS. “We’re going to miss him next year!”
These years at WIS also contributed to the fine-tuning of his focus for his upcoming graduate studies and his ultimate goal of developing appropriate curricula for adult learners.
“Teaching adults has so much potential for creating a very different kind of social consciousness that you can’t get from kids,” Bentley said.
One of his history professors, Dr. James Naylor witnessed Bentley’s growth, his engagement and his development during his studies at BU.
“When he first showed up in class, he was mature and did what we want students to do: To take control of his education, to be open to everything, and out of that, pick what he was felt would be socially useful and apply himself to it,” said Naylor. “I watched him come to terms with what he wanted to do, and intellectually, very much carving out his own niche. Also, it’s been intriguing and invigorating reading his work.”
This fall, Chris will continue his studies with several scholarships in hand, entering a master of education program at York University. He will be concentrating on language, culture and teaching, with long range plans to pursue a doctorate. Afterward, he hopes to develop curriculum for adult learners and perhaps return to the classroom.