Laurentian student in Sudbury chosen as aboriginal success story in higher education
New campaign aims to inspire others
The Council of Ontario Universities is launching a new campaign to promote aboriginal success stories in higher education. Across Ontario, 13 role models have been chosen to their stories.
Amy Shawnada is one of those role models. She is currently working on her Master's at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ont. She said pursuing a master's degree wasn't always a goal for her.
"In high school, I didn't really have that high aspirations of post-secondary education," she said. "Basically, I looked at it as 'Well, if I'm going to get an education, I'm going to get an education to get off the reserve.'"
Shawnada, who is from Wikwemikong First Nation on Manitoulin Island, became a waitress after high school and became pregnant with her son. While working that job, she decided going to school would allow her to be a better role model for her son.
Initially, Shawanda aspired to attend law school, but that life path changed when she had the opportunity to meet Justice Murray Sinclair. She told Sinclair her goals about changing policies, and he suggested she work towards a master's program instead of law school.
"So right there, my dreams were a little bit crushed, but at the same time, I had a little bit of hope," she said.
'You can do whatever you want'
She applied to take her Master's in Indigenous Studies at Laurentian and was accepted. She's scheduled to complete the program this year. But the process of completing both her bachelor's degree and master's hasn't always been easy as she's a single mother raising her son, while also being a student.
"It was very difficult," she said. "I had to get myself and my son on a routine."
Even with a routine, after her son was in bed, there were some nights Shawanda was up doing school work until 3 a.m. or 4 a.m.
There were times she considered quitting, but her family supported her to keep moving forward.
"Nowadays, you do need an education," she said. "There's only so far you can get with a high school education."
Now, she's pleased she can share her success story to inspire others.
"I know there are people back home or people I've met … on my pathway, and they're like 'I can't do that,' and I'm like 'You can can do whatever you want.'"
Shawanda said she plans to work on her PhD after she finishes her Master's program.
Dr. Sheila Cote-Meek of Teme-Augama Anishnaabe, who teaches at Laurentian University, has also been chosen as a role model.