Tracey Martineau: An Adult Learner's Story


The University of New Brunswick’s College of Extended Learning celebrates the courage and dedication of adult learners everywhere.
For many adult learners going back to school can be an intimidating experience.
Part of this is the fear of being in a classroom filled with young people in which they have little in common.
“Have no fear,” said Marilyn Carkner, coordinator of adult learner services at the UNB College of Extended Learning in Fredericton. “There is a growing trend of adult learners returning to university.”
The reality is that about a quarter of undergraduate students at UNB are over the age of 25.
“Many students, both young and mature, bring a great deal of experience to the classroom, making it an enriching environment for all," said Ms. Carkner.
Tracey Martineau is an example of an adult learner that returned to university to complete her degree after being out of school for more than 14 years.
“Ms. Martineau is evidence that going back to university can take you in many directions. It can help you to reach your goals and fulfil your dreams,” said Ms. Carkner.
Ms. Martineau began her undergraduate degree at Concordia University in Montreal in the early eighties. It was during her studies that she met a recruitment officer for a United Nations (UN) specialized agency, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), who invited her to come and work with them. Eventually she accepted and left university to work with ICAO in 1985.
By the mid-nineties, the UN was increasing its participation peacekeeping missions around the world and required UN personnel to go and field these operations.
“They asked if any staff from the specialized agencies wanted to volunteer and so I did,” said Ms. Martineau.  “That is how I ended up doing peacekeeping work on three continents for about 10 years.”
During that time it became evident that education, particularly a bachelor’s degree, was increasingly important to her career.
“By 2001, I was working as a regional administrative officer in a remote enclave in Timor-Leste, a state in Southeast Asia,” said Ms. Marineau.  “The position was a much higher level than that for which I was graded.  I had always wanted to complete my undergraduate degree and so I was very motivated to go back to university because in order to get the higher level promotion, the minimum requirement was a Bachelor’s degree.
Being in the field with basic living conditions and travelling made it hard for her to work on a degree, and eventually, Ms. Martineau started looking for universities in Canada, and found the UNB’s Bachelor of Integrated Studies program (BIS).
“Not only was it [the BIS program] flexible, but UNB seemed to be very willing to look at all of the courses I’d accumulated beforehand even though it had been a while,” said Ms. Martineau.
She applied, was admitted, and started the program in the fall of 2006.
By this time, her long-term goals had changed. She was interested in opening her own hospitality business and chose to do her minor, a requirement for the BIS, in business administration.
“My plan was to complete my degree and return to the UN for a few years at a higher level; and then start my own business–either a B&B or a bar in Brazil.”
Within the BIS program, she was also able to do adult education courses. The UN provides many training opportunities and her plan upon her return was to work in training rather than administration and logistics as she had done previously.
“I have to say the faculty and administration at UNB were just really, in one word ‘awesome,’” said Ms. Martineau.
Ms. Martineau’s experience with the staff at UNB CEL was very positive. CEL is the gateway to UNB’s programs and services for adult learners.
 “I found that no matter who I spoke to, it wasn’t so much what do you want, but more, what can I do for you now? I have dealt with a number of administrations in different organizations in my lifetime and I have never been so impressed by an institution as I was by the people at UNB,” said Ms. Martineau.
Ms. Martineau finished her degree in 2007 on the Dean’s List, but the story doesn’t end there.
When she came back to Canada in 2006, she attended her 25-year high school reunion, and reconnected with her very first boyfriend, Douglas. They kept in touch during her time in Fredericton and often discussed the idea for her hospitality business. He is a professional chef and has extensive experience in the industry.
After graduation, she went to visit him in Ontario, and as they say, the rest is history. She decided to stay in Canada and began looking for new career opportunities. She eventually responded to an ad in the newspaper for a position with Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB).
After a long and arduous selection process, she was selected from thousands of Canadian applicants and was appointed to IRB as a member to the refugee protection division.
“It was a fantastic experience which I could have only had thanks to my UNB degree. I got this job because of this great program,” said Ms. Martineau.
The story still doesn’t end there.
“The job was fascinating and challenging; however, my now husband, Douglas, and I found that our schedules were such that we spent no time together and this was not what we wanted.”
As luck would have it, while planning a weekend getaway, the couple happened upon an ad for a Bed & Breakfast for sale in Ontario.
“We went to visit and we decided to move forward with the hospitality business idea sooner rather than later.”
Ms. Martineau resigned from her position with the IRB; they sold their home in Montreal, and they have just purchased the Sauble Falls Bed & Breakfast in Wiarton, and will takeover this existing waterfront business on May 1, 2011.
The business classes she took paid off.
“UNB’s business faculty were terrific,” said Ms. Martineau. “I am using the business plan model as well as the accounting and financial planning theories I learned in my business courses. It is fun and rewarding to take what you learned in theory and apply it to your life’s dream.”
She is also using the knowledge she learned in the adult education classes she took.
“I am applying adult learning principles in my work as a trainer/facilitator with the US State Department’s Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI),” said Ms. Martineau.
She is part of a team of international subject matter experts who provide training on various aspects of UN peacekeeping to military officers in the Asia-Pacific region.
“So far, I have been to Bangladesh, Thailand and Tajikistan on these short-term training assignments and will go to Indonesia in the middle of our move,” said Ms. Martineau. “I love the work and, again, this great opportunity is thanks to courses from UNB.”
Attending university as an adult learner is a very different experience than it is for a student right out of high school. Adults bring a wealth of experience to the classroom and can often provide real life examples of some of the concepts they learn.
In her experience and learning at UNB, she feels she gained all the theory and background to a number of the experiences she has had in her life.
“I felt that I had the ‘building’ already from my life experiences, and my UNB degree gave me the ‘foundation’,” said Ms. Martineau. “It was very interesting to learn the proper names and theories and I am now better equipped to analyze things.”
Ms. Martineau believes that she made the right decision to leave her post at the UN to finish her degree at UNB.
“At the time, I believed I would go back to the UN; however, I feel I couldn’t have made a better choice,” said Ms. Martineau. “If I hadn’t have slowed down and stayed put in Fredericton to complete my degree, my life may have gone a different direction.  And, thanks to UNB, my life is darn good.”
For more information on services available for adult learners, or details on the bachelor of integrated studies (UNB’s degree completion program for adults), visit the College of Extended Learning website at To make an appointment to discuss your goals and how to get started, call 506-458-7976 or email,