President’s Medal recipient reflects on a life of service to others

May 18, 2023

President’s Medal recipient reflects on a life of service to others

"My work helps me as much as it helps other people."

Robert (Rob) Gurney is thoughtful as he considers being awarded NorQuest College’s top student achievement. The President’s Medal recognizes learners whose strong academic achievements are further amplified by their sense of giving and active participation in the community.

“I am greatly honoured to receive the President’s Medal,” says Rob. “The work has never been for accolades but gives me purpose. It holds a certain responsibility to take this and use it to do more and build NorQuest’s reputation. It doesn’t end here.”

Rob knows a thing or two about responsibility and doing more. He first attended NorQuest in 1997 to upgrade his high school qualifications. He chose NorQuest for the central location and had a friend who shared their happy experience studying social work at the college. Many years later, social work drew Rob back to NorQuest and he is now graduating with a social work diploma, adding to a life lived in service.

Rob slowly got into helping people after the life-changing experience of being unhoused for 10 years. He gradually got into janitorial work, volunteering at the Salvation Army, and then worked as a peer support worker for Alberta Health Services. For Rob, lending a helping hand is part of his nature. He feels it’s the Creator’s calling that has evolved his character based on his own experiences.

Being a proud Indigenous two-spirit person has also shaped Rob’s life. He generously shared his Indigenous culture in learning activities and assignments, and he’s grateful that NorQuest has made space for Indigenous people. “It was really forward-thinking of NorQuest to include the Indigenous Services Centre,” he says. “It is impactful having a safe space where tutors meet one on one with students. There aren’t many places you can smudge indoors but the centre allows this. This was helpful in calming my anxiety before tests and exams and helped to centre me.”

After many years of helping others, a social work diploma seemed a natural fit for Rob. He notes that he was inspired by watching social workers do their job over the years and discovering that there are so many things one can do as a social worker. Always curious, Rob learned more about Canada’s colonial history and the impact of government policies on different peoples. This knowledge further informs his work and desire to help people from all walks of life.

Besides his studies at NorQuest, Rob contributed to campus life by volunteering for college events, participated in the Students’ Association, and was part of the Student Judicial Affairs Committee. Rob also received the RBC Mentorship Scholarship for his work as a student ambassador and tutor.

When asked to remark on these amazing accomplishments, Rob is modest and sums things up simply: lifting other people’s spirits helps him stay in tune with himself. “Giving feeds your medicine wheel,” he says with a smile. “To help others gives back in its own way. It’s healing to help others heal.”