by Heidi Staseson
For many online students, it is rare to meet your professors in person. But not for Tania Kruk.
A few weeks ago, the soon-to-be AU graduate (Bachelor of Health Administration) met her epidemiology tutor, Dr. Allyson Jones, while working on her practicum at the Aboriginal Health Program at Edmonton’s Royal Alexandra Hospital.
They were attending the same all-staff meeting.
“I had never seen her in-person,” says Kruk. “It was such a cute moment — seeing an AU teacher face-to-face. She was so happy to meet a student, and I was so happy to meet a professor.”
But this was no proverbial ‘happy accident.’ If it hadn’t been for the annual Belcourt Brosseau Métis Awards (BBMA), Kruk wouldn’t have had the job — nor the teacher to meet.
The BBMA fund, now in its 15th year, makes it possible for many Métis Albertans to achieve their post-secondary education goals. Delivered by the Edmonton Community Foundation (ECF) and its founding partners who were in the housing business, the BBMA have awarded more than one thousand Métis Albertan students a total exceeding $5.8 million.
That shared vision, back in 2001, was to create possibility while “building individual strength for Métis students through learning.” BBMA Communications Coordinator Theresa Majeran confirms that in 2015, the program recognized the achievements of 150 Métis students, each of whom received between $2,000 and $5,000 in award money.
Kruk, a resident of Beaumont, Alta., says obtaining a university education would have remained a pipe dream without the BBMA:
“I would never have taken food from my kids’ mouths to be able to follow my dream of getting educated. I am so grateful.”
“It was such a cute moment — seeing an AU teacher face-to-face. She was so happy to meet a student, and I was so happy to meet a professor.” ~ Tania Kruk, Athabasca University student, BBMA recipient
She is just a few courses shy of graduating; a six-year investment she has juggled alongside motherhood and part-time work. When she enrolled at AU, she was raising her two-year-old son and was pregnant with her daughter. While studying, she realized her true passion (aside from her family) was making a positive difference for many in the field of aboriginal health-care – something she is eager to turn into a meaningful career, as soon as she graduates.
More than money
But Kruk adds the BBMAs are more than money. They’re a self-confidence booster that helped her former “life dampening” anxieties evaporate, bringing her to a place of inspiration and determination.
Simply put, she got cracking, head-down to the grindstone and, in no time watched her grades soar.
BBMA recipients feel supported, encouraged and connected to their roots – feelings which, Kruk says, are enhanced annually at the awards gala. And while Majeran agrees money makes educational goals possible, the icing on the cake is purely organic.
“Tania learned how powerful the message behind the BBMA is — that they weren’t just going to be a funder for school. They were going to be her best friend. Now she has another family and new friends to support her.”
One of those friends is Sarah Stephens, a three-time BBMA recipient, and AU’s alumni ambassador for Volunteer Service . Last year, she received her Master of Nursing and is now a nurse practitioner and a teacher at AU. Kruk and Stephens met at the BBMA awards gala last year and instantly bonded.
“The BBMAs give you that boost, that pattern of confidence-raising and support. It was the motivation I needed to get through.” ~ Tania Kruk
Each has a tattoo of the semi-colon, a symbol of resilience through life’s emotional obstacles, something they respectively spoke of during their gala speeches, and which they both got in support of a mental-health services fundraiser called “Project Semicolon.
Says Kruk: “The symbolism of the semicolon is that of a story that could have ended, but instead, kept going. In other words: “my story isn’t over yet.” (To learn more about the initiative visit Project Semicolon)
Stephens fondly refers to Kruk as her ‘Métis Sister — a connection, she maintains, is “not unique to the ones that can occur within the BBMA family.”
“We cheer each other on in life, not just in school,” says Stephens.
“We relate to each other in ways that I haven’t related to other people before, and I feel that being open about our mental health is a blessing in a society that still shuns those working on their mental health and well-being.”
That indelible bond is strengthened by their Métis birthright. It has served to close emotional wounds and question marks surrounding their identities.
Majeran explains that a person’s Métis roots are often a cause for misconception and confusion among young people. “Often our Métis, because of their fair complexion and their blue eyes, are misunderstood,” she says.
Adds Stephens: “Being Métis is something that is very important to both of us and something we take a lot of pride in. It is also cause for a lot of racism as we don’t ‘look native enough” – but we aren’t native; we are Métis.”
Stephens fondly refers to Kruk as her ‘Métis Sister — a connection, she maintains, that is “not unique to the ones that can occur within the BBMA family.”
Further, says Majeran, “knowing who they are makes them strong enough to go where they are going.”
Which, by all accounts, is up.
BBMA students comprise the gamut of career callings. From doctors and lawyers to helicopter pilots and funeral directors.
“I have seen the students go from receiving the award to help with their first years of university to delivering babies and flying planes,” Majeran remarks, adding that ambition plays a key part.
“Most Metis are like that because we’re survivalists,” Majeran explains. “It’s not enough to catch just one rabbit —you’ve got to have a trap line.
From walls to halls
At the BBMA gala last September, 50 past award recipients turned up. It was that significant to them. Paying homage to the anniversary, Majeran says the BBMA was the “perfect fit.”
“The housing business founders decided they needed to go from walls to halls. After they had initially granted Alberta Métis housing opportunities, they soon realized it wasn’t enough. Education was the answer.”
“It’s not enough to catch just one rabbit —you’ve got to have a trap line.” ~ Theresa Majoran, communications coordinator, Belcourt Brosseau Métis Awards
Kruk says she is grateful BBMA executives decided she was “worth the investment.”
And, the opportunities that come with getting an Athabasca University education are not lost on her either.
“Having the life balance that AU affords me — to be able to do my course work on my own time, at night, and be ‘Mom’ during the day, is just ‘the right fit,” she says.
“When you’re a parent going to school, you still want to be present as a mom. Doing that alongside my university degree, has been super challenging. But I know that if I had gone to a different university that had a set schedule, it just would not have worked for me.
Notwithstanding the extra time it has taken to complete her education, Kruk says the bottom line is this:
“If you have the desire and the drive to succeed, and you get the help you need along the way, you can accomplish your goals. Anything is possible.”