Family Mediation graduate, Monica Kavanagh, explains why she chose to embark on a new career challenge after retiring

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By Matthew McGrath

Monica Kavanagh is a self-described life-long learner. At age 65, not content with retiring, she decided to embark on a new career journey after working for years as a school teacher, and a gemmologist before that.

Motivated by her passion for helping families through challenging situations—something she had experienced first-hand—Monica registered for the School’s Certificate in Family Mediation and recently graduated from the program. We spoke with Monica about her inspiring story and her exciting plans for her future career ambitions as a family mediator!

Could you describe your educational and career background prior to enrolling at York University’s School of Continuing Studies? 

I began my career in 1981 as an exploration geologist with Amoco Canada in Calgary after graduating from the University of Windsor and the University of Western Ontario with an Honours BSc degree in geology. 

I moved to Vancouver and became a certified aerobics fitness instructor while I took a correspondence course to become a certified gemmologist.  Following a move to Toronto, I worked as a gemmologist doing jewellery appraisals, diamond grading and selection for custom-made jewellery while continuing to take gemmology courses to refine my skills. 

Volunteer work in schools, the library and our church filled my days while raising a family. After eleven years at home raising our three sons, I went back to university at York and completed my BEd at age forty-one. I taught elementary school in every grade from kindergarten to grade eight, took two additional qualification courses in English as a Second Language and taught ESL for several years before retiring after teaching twenty-four years with the York Catholic District School Board in the spring of 2023. 

I was not ready to retire, so I explored options to go back to York University at age sixty-five. Mediation resolved my divorce in 2014 and my personal experience led me to pursue the family mediation program at York University.

What inspired you to continue your education at this stage in your life? 

I have always been a life-long learner and enjoy the challenge of pursuing further education. 2022 brought an exciting new chapter to my life as I remarried. As I settled into my new home and marriage, it was a time for reflection about where I wanted to go moving forward. 

Healing from my divorce ten years ago was a process, and I strove to put all that behind me with a fresh start and a new direction in my life. My friends are all retiring, but I desired a new challenge in beginning a fifth career.  I have always enjoyed helping people and admired the mediator who assisted us during our court proceedings. Since that time, I had the desire to pursue mediation and a Google search led me to York University once again. 

The continuing education program looked like an exciting option perfectly suited to my new career ambition.

What drives your passion for family mediation? 

The feeling of satisfaction I will get from helping a couple work through the difficult challenges of separation and divorce is the passion that drives me to pursue a career in mediation. Focusing on the best interests of the children when involved, is a critical factor. I have been in their shoes.

I understand the process of the court system as I attended court seven times during my divorce, representing myself five times. Mediation is a time and cost-efficient alternative to litigation with lawyers.

It is a process that offers the couple the opportunity to communicate through a neutral third party to assist them in reaching a resolution of their own making, as opposed to the decision of a judge who does not know them. 

Why did you choose York University’s School of Continuing Studies for your program? 

I chose York University’s School of Continuing Studies because I wanted to continue my education first of all in university, as opposed to a college or other institution.  I attended York for my bachelor in education degree and that was a positive experience that brought me back twenty-five years later. I believe York University is the only university offering certification in family mediation and that impressed me. It proved to be an excellent choice.

How would you describe your experience with the instructors at the School?

The instructors in my program were amazing. They were all very organized, knowledgeable and approachable. They all have vast experience in their fields and generously shared their practical knowledge and experiences. 

The presentations were engaging and provided ample opportunity for questions and discussion. The coaches in the role-play breakout rooms gave encouraging comments to ease our anxieties and create an inviting atmosphere for deep learning through doing. All of the instructors were seasoned mediators from varied backgrounds with years of experience. 

Some were family law lawyers who went into mediation and were very inspirational. We learned the importance of establishing a mediation style to match our experience and background and move forward with the skills we were taught. I enjoyed connecting with all five of my instructors and coaches through our class discussions and assignments. 

Grading was detailed with positive comments and feedback for areas of improvement. I made a special connection with one of my instructors who agreed to be my mentor following completion of the program. 

She has taken on the role of guiding me as I discern the direction for my new career.

What was it like to collaborate with your peers throughout the program? 

My peers in the program aided immensely in expanding my knowledge.  We had a diverse group including teachers, family law lawyers and social workers who were keen on engaging and sharing their experiences.  Breakout rooms allowed deeper connections with groups of about four students. Groups were mixed throughout the program which gave a chance to develop more relationships.

We worked cooperatively on group assignments and learned from each other. The Zoom format has its limits for after-class socializing, however, I took the chance to connect to class early and stay after class when the classroom was open. I made three close friendships and several acquaintances that I will feel comfortable reaching out to going forward if I have questions or concerns and need support.  

Can you share a moment from your time at the School that you are particularly proud of? 

Going back to university at this time in my life was very exciting and empowering, but I had moments of doubt as I struggled with completing some assignments. I put in the time and effort that was required, and I am proud to say my efforts were rewarded with three As and two A-plus grades. 

I have always been an A student and to be able to achieve this again in a challenging program provided a boost to my self-confidence. I know I made a good choice in getting the skills required to pursue a new direction in my life.

What are your plans for your career or further education after graduating from your program?

My present journey is one of reflection, research, making connections and reaching out as I decide how best to begin my mediation experience.  I have made some initial decisions toward progress:

  • I have a mentor who is a family law lawyer and mediator with her own practice.
  • I have registered with a mediation firm for forty hours of training in June as I work towards my 100 hours accreditation in family mediation with the Ontario Association of Family Mediators.
  • I plan to apply to the Mediator in Training Program through the Toronto court system which begins in September.
  • I am in the process of starting my own mediation business with connections through my church and experience with new immigrants.

Looking ahead, what are your long-term career goals, and how do you feel your program has prepared you to achieve them? 

My long-term career goal is to work as a family mediator in the downtown Toronto court system. The beauty of mediation was something reinforced time and time again in our program.

Mediation has numerous branches to explore with continuing courses to feed my passion as I explore the areas that interest me. With my teaching experience with children, I may use that to focus on mediation involving the children. The options are endless. 

I am open to wherever it leads me. I am a person who embraces change and growth. My six months in this program were a time of tremendous personal growth. I now have the skills, tools, resources and confidence to begin.  I recommend the Continuing Education Program at York University for your personal and professional growth. Take the plunge and go for it!