Crystal Lennie is a masters of public health student at the University of Alberta, even though she was once a high school dropout.
Her goal now is to become a deputy minister of health. It’s something she couldn’t conceive of as a teenager in Inuvik who quit going to school in Grade 9 and later landed an entry-level government job.
“When I was 18 turning 19, all my friends were graduating and I was like, Oh my goodness, I need to get my high school completed,” she said.
She became highly motivated. She enrolled at Grant MacEwan College in Edmonton and completed grades 10 through 12 in a single year.
There were many other stops afterwards – diploma and certificate programs. She attained her bachelor of science in 2015 via distance learning through Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.
When she was unsuccessful at getting accepted into highly-competitive medical school to become a doctor, she turned her sights to the masters of health program at the University of Alberta.
“So then I decided, OK, well I still have all of this health experience because when I worked for the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation (as manager of the Community Development Division) I sat on a number of boards for them nationally and internationally, so it gave me a lot of health experience, and I managed their health projects as well,” Lennie said, adding that she also was part of a review of the Alaskan health care system and has toured health facilities in Nunavut and Labrador.
“In a sense, yes, working at the executive level within the Department of Health is a career aspiration,” she said.
For the past five years, Lennie has been a training and development coordinator with the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs in Inuvik. She’s working on her masters part-time via distance learning. She figures it will take three to four years to complete it.
In February, she spent part of one day working on a university group project through Google Hangouts. Her team members joined the call from around the world, including San Diego and Qatar, in the Middle East.
“We can be working on (projects) from anywhere and finishing each other’s sentences, so it’s really neat,” Lennie said. “We spent about six hours together as a group and three hours with our instructors in a two-week period to get a presentation done for our instructors on storm water management and water sustainability.”
Even as a masters student, she has the potential to influence territorial and national policy. She recently had a paper she wrote on Nutrition North and food security forwarded to Northern Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc’s office to give the minister a “Northern perspective.”
Her overall focus, she said, is on how Northerners can better their lives.
After completing her masters, Lennie isn’t ruling out continuing to take courses and, perhaps, striving for a Ph.D.
“I’ve really always enjoyed learning and I’ve been very thankful for the opportunities to be able to learn,” she said. “I really like academics. I like research. I like working with researchers. I’ve always had a passion for learning.”
She added that her parents, Johnny and Beverly Lennie, have been very encouraging all along.
“My parents really pushed to get your education, keep learning, keep moving forward,” she said.