Nova Scotia

Halifax's poet laureate inspired by students she advises

Rebecca Thomas may be Halifax’s poet laureate, but students at Nova Scotia's Community College know her as the person who can help them navigate a challenging post-secondary world.

Rebecca Thomas is a student services adviser to some 750 students at the Nova Scotia Community College

Rebecca Thomas, student adviser at NSCC and poet laureate of Halifax. (Samantha Schwientek/CBC)

Rebecca Thomas may be Halifax's poet laureate, but students at the Nova Scotia Community College know her as the person who can help them navigate a challenging post-secondary world.

Thomas, who was named last year as the city's first Indigenous poet laureate, offers support and advice as a student services adviser to about 750 students at NSCC.

"I love seeing them succeed," says Thomas, a Mi'kmaq woman who grew up in Moncton, N.B.

"I cry at convocation because I see how hard they've worked."

'I felt her energy'

Hanna Butler is a first-year student at NSCC. Before the two even met, Butler says she found Thomas personable, approachable and non-judgmental.

Hanna Butler, a student at NSCC student, says she was drawn to Thomas's upbeat and positive spirit. (Samantha Schwientek/CBC)

"I'd seen her on the other end of campus and [felt] her energy," says Butler, who made a point of introducing her six-year-old daughter to Thomas.

"I've never seen her not smiling. She's a really upbeat, cheery, positive person."

Walking around the Waterfront Campus in Dartmouth, Thomas makes it about 100 metres outside her office before she's greeted by a group of students. She talks with them for several minutes before she begins to head back to her office.

She only manages to get halfway back before she stops to check in with another group of students.

Thomas jokes that she's both a student's best friend and worst enemy. "I will get into your life," says Thomas, 31.

She describes herself as the person a student can approach and say, "I had a bad day. I just need to sit on your couch and cuddle your blanket for a minute."

Adds Butler: "Sometimes students don't feel comfortable reaching out to a teacher."

Whether a student's problem is personal, emotional or financial, Thomas says she's there for them.

Rebecca Thomas speaks to an NSCC student. (Samantha Schwientek/CBC)

She recalls a situation with a student whom she was encouraging to apply for a scholarship. The student eventually decided to apply and a few months later called Thomas to give her the good news.

Learning of the student's achievement left her "so, so happy."

"I felt very justified in my incessant meddling," she says.

A poet's inspiration

Though she has made an impact on the lives of her students, Thomas has also been influenced by her time at NSCC.

She says her writings as poet laureate, which touch on everything from love to abortion to Indigenous issues to education, are often inspired by her students.

"I can't live as poet laureate, live as student services adviser and as Rebecca," says Thomas. "I am all of them at the same time."