Carolyn Vasileiou: Confidence and Curiosity
Wednesday, August 30th, 2023
NWP Instructor Carolyn Vasileiou
It was Northwestern Polytechnic’s Fairview campus that brought Carolyn Vasileiou’s parents together. Long before she started her own journey at NWP, Carolyn’s parents met while young students at what was then called Fairview College.
Her father was in the agricultural program and her mother was studying home economics. Eventually they married and bought a farm in High Prairie, Alberta where they raised their children.
Even after moving to their farm and starting the next phase of their lives, her parents still cherished their memories from post-secondary. They kept in touch with many of their classmates and friends and spoke fondly of their time in the tight knit rural community. This would later be one of the driving factors that inspired Carolyn to carve her own pathway in the post-secondary world.
Carolyn describes herself as someone who is “instantly uplifted and invigorated by spending time around people” and it is no surprise she has only found herself in careers that have allowed her to do just that.
Over a period spanning 15 years, Carolyn worked as a social worker in hospitals and for the Alberta government. Fast forward and Carolyn is now an instructor at NWP in the Business Administration department where she has been inspiring her students for 17 years and counting. But the NWP teaching role wasn’t always a clear choice on the career menu.
In between her work as a social worker and instructor, Carolyn and her spouse at the time owned a busy Greek restaurant in Grande Prairie. This venture was what initially brought the young family to the Grande Prairie area.
Her husband was Greek and loved entertaining and cooking. The two met while Carolyn was living in Greece, which is where she moved after completing her Bachelor of Social Work degree. During those two years abroad, Carolyn worked as a travel representative.
After moving back to Canada, the two knew that one day they would like to own an energetic restaurant. When a restaurant came up for sale in Grande Prairie, they eagerly jumped at the chance to purchase it and moved to the Peace Country, naming their business Acropolis.
Once here and settled with a young family in tow, Carolyn admits that running a restaurant, and particularly an untraditional restaurant for the area, was intimidating. There was a time she thought that maybe they were in over their heads.
Jumping into the back of a cab one morning on her way to work with her tiny baby, the tired new mom and restauranteur was making small talk with her cab driver. When asked what she did for a living, she explained that her and her husband owned a Greek restaurant in town.
“I remember his reaction so vividly. He was in shock and almost appalled. At the time in Grande Prairie most restaurant menus were Western food only. We had only owned the restaurant for about a month, and I remember thinking that maybe this wasn’t a good idea.”
Since it was too late to change their minds, Carolyn and her husband dove right into running their business. “We had to make it work, and we had to get creative.” Those self-taught lessons she gained from that time are now what she shares with her students in the business classes she teaches at NWP.
Whether it was exploring different ways to get the word out about their business or developing Western food options for the menu to get people in the door, they made it work.
Years later, Carolyn started craving a career change. Her first step was to make an appointment with academic advisors at Northwestern Polytechnic to discuss possible classes and different career options.
Carolyn ended up receiving a call from the post-secondary shortly after with an intriguing job offer. Her degrees in both Social Work and Sociology, along with many years of hospitality experience, meant that Carolyn was ideally suited to teach Hospitality and Tourism courses. And in 2012, Carolyn decided to add a Master of Arts in Leadership from Royal Roads University to her lengthy list of achievements.
According to Carolyn, her career now isn’t necessarily the one that she envisioned for herself, but her previous experiences, knowledge and skillset have come together perfectly for this position. Her time spent as a business owner, coupled with experience in social work has helped her to navigate the post-secondary classroom and share her learnings with others.
“I can look back now I can see how the pieces kind of fit together. But I would have never dreamed I would have this kind of career,” she said.
While gearing up to teach her first classes, Carolyn admits that she would walk by classrooms on campus and see instructors confidently teaching at the front of the room. She began to wonder if this was the right move.
“The dean at the time met with me before I was to start teaching and gave me a great pep talk. He reminded me that I could do this, and that I already had the experience as a parent and running a business, and as a social worker. That’s the type of leadership that lifted me up to a level that I didn't even see myself at, but he believed in me.”
And now Carolyn is top of the class. In 2021 she received the Vice President’s Outstanding Teacher Award. This is given to instructors who demonstrate outstanding teaching methods with innovation, responsiveness, and dedication to education.
Despite moments of doubt, Carolyn has always been able to find the confidence to do whatever she sets her heart upon. Whether it’s running an unconventional restaurant in a new town or teaching classes for the first time, she turns her impressive collection of experiences and curiosity for new challenges into success.