VIU's New Peer Support Navigator Removes Barriers for Students

Ruby Barclay is ensuring students who have spent time in the foster care system get what they need to succeed in school as Vancouver Island University’s first Peer Support Navigator for the Tuition Waiver Program.

January 24, 2018 - 4:30pm

Ruby Barclay was hired to support students accessing the University’s Tuition Waiver Program

 Vancouver Island University’s (VIU’s) new Peer Support Navigator for the Tuition Waiver Program for former youth in care is ensuring fewer of the University’s most vulnerable students fall through the cracks.

More than 80 students who have spent time in BC’s foster care system accessed the Tuition Waiver Program at VIU this year. While the program ensures their tuition is paid for, many of these students have other needs that must be met for them to succeed once they are enrolled. That’s why Ruby Barclay, a fourth-year student in the Child and Youth Care program, was hired as Peer Support Navigator for the program last May. Her job is to advocate for students in the program and help them get what they need to be successful in school. To her knowledge, her position is unique in the province.

“My role is to act as a bridge to services,” says Barclay. “I host social gatherings once a month for students to connect through casual conversations. I also listen to their needs or help them identify barriers to being successful in school, and host workshops for them on topics like time management or setting boundaries in relationships.

"Students come with unique challenges as a result of in-care experiences, and need support moving forward and navigating post-secondary. We have seen an increase in students accessing services and we’ve seen less students fall through the cracks because of this position.”

Barclay’s week varies based on the needs of the students. For example, one day she might be in business dress advocating for a new support in front of VIU’s Board of Governors; the next day she’s meeting with a student to find them housing and hosting a social gathering. Through this role, Barclay has been an advisor to the Provincial Tuition Waiver Program; she works with different levels of government to address the root cause of barriers for students; and she’s a mentor on the Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre’s Youth Advisory Council. Just before Christmas, she raised funds to make 46 self-care packages that she hand-delivered to students.

Barclay has a better understanding of the unique needs of students in the Tuition Waiver Program because she is accessing the program herself.

“I know the kind of weight and stereotypes that come along with the label of youth in care,” she says. “One important aspect of my job is modelling and fostering a space for students to build their identity outside of being a youth in care. I am modelling for them the impact of being socially connected, successful in school and pursuing what I am passionate about. Nearly 30 students have graduated from the program so far – it’s about replicating how I and these other students have been successful.”

Barclay also connects with people who want to enter the program to help them with the process. For some students, small acts like helping them fill out an application form can help launch them in a new direction in life, she says.

“I love watching students come out of their shells – just seeing them take charge and start to figure out what they need to do is so rewarding,” she says.

Barclay started connecting with her peers in September 2016 as part of a practicum placement she designed for herself with the University’s blessing. As the impact of her work started to become apparent, she caught the attention of University administrators, including William Litchfield, Associate Vice-President of University Relations, who created a paid position.

“She saw an opportunity where a voice needed to be elevated,” he says. “Since she started her work, I’ve seen a big change in many students accessing the Tuition Waiver Program – they are more confident, they are integrating more in the University community, and engaging with others more. At the end of the day, we want them to be students. Ruby is aware of needs these students have that we don’t know about and she’s done a good job of advocating for students and getting them what they need.”

Thanks to the Mid-Island Chapter of the 100+ Women Who Care, which donated more than $13,000 to the VIU Foundation, the institution will be able to hire a second Peer Support Navigator.

Students do not need to have aged out of the foster care system to be eligible for VIU’s Tuition Waiver Program – the only requirement is that they have spent 12 cumulative months in the system. To learn more, visit the Tuition Waiver Program homepage or email



Jenn McGarrigle, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University

P: 250.740.6559 | C: 250.619.6860 | E: | T: @VIUNews


SIDEBAR: Ruby Barclay at The Walrus Talks

Ruby Barclay will be speaking more about the importance of her work at The Walrus Talks Leadership, taking place at Vancouver Island University on March 13 at 7 pm. The Walrus Talks will feature seven speakers on how our ideas and choices can shape the future of culture, reconciliation, economic development and more. Tickets are $10-$15 and are available at

Tags: Student Success