By Meredith Dault
It was while she was pregnant with her third child that Maria Offin realized she was ready to take a chance and go back to school. "That was my big inspiration," she recalls over hot chocolate at a campus café, "I realized I wanted to take a step forward, but it didn't have anything to do with my previous education."
Born and raised in Russia, Offin studied electrical engineering at university. "I realized it wasn't what I wanted to do," she says thoughtfully. "I always knew I liked nature and the environment, but I didn't know what I could do with it. In Russia (that course of study) wasn't even an option, so I did what I could."
But it was a fateful meeting in Kingston that brought her to Queen's and allowed her to pursue her dream of doing environmental work. A childhood friend from Russia had moved to Canada and was studying at Queen's. Offin came for a visit and the course of her life promptly changed. "I met my future husband then," she says with a laugh.
Offin, who has been in Canada for eight years, says she was considering getting certified to work as an engineer in this country, but contemplating the lengthy process, wondered if there was something else she would rather be doing.
Knowing she was interested in straw bale construction, Offin began shopping around for a department that might be a good fit. She started her Master's degree in Environmental Studies in the spring semester of 2007, taking two semesters off in the middle to be with her new baby daughter. Her daughter now spends a few days a week at the Queen's daycare (her older daughter and son are in school), while Offin and her husband, a math professor, juggle busy schedules.
Offin, whose thesis saw her analyzing the "embodied energy in straw bale homes as compared to conventional homes," says she didn't know what to expect from a Canadian education, but she describes her time at Queen's as "inspirational." "It was more involving and demanding than in Russia," she says of the experience. "They want more of you here. You have to express your opinions and views." Though she says she found it intimidating at the beginning, Offin says she found her department supportive and encouraging. "I feel more confident about who I am, what I know, and how I can present it."
As she wraps up her degree, Offin has her sights on the future. "I'm interested in green construction, energy and resource conservation," she says of her plans, "and it would be great to work outdoors... that's my dream job - not having to sit in an office!"
Though she says she didn't know much about Queen's when she came for her first visit to Kingston, the university has become an important part of her life. "We're lucky to be here," she says with a smile. "I really love Kingston. It's a nice place to be." As for graduate school, Offin gives her youngest daughter the credit for giving her the impetuous to pursue her dream. "I am so happy and grateful to my little kid for inspiring me!"