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Why Give | Impact stories

Thanks to donors, this mother and son said yes to studying at UBC together

Empowered by Centennial Scholarships, Jenn and James Waller are at UBC together, embracing their Indigenous heritage in their studies.

Jenn and James Waller

Jenn and James Waller did not plan to be at UBC at the same time. Instead, it was a fortunate coincidence made possible by donors—with both mother and son being recipients of the Centennial Scholarship. Jenn, a single mom, acknowledges the scholarship enabled her to say “yes” to returning to school full-time.

“When you have a child you’re trying to help through university, you’ve got to keep putting yourself on the backburner,” she says. “Being awarded the Centennial Scholarship made it actually happen. I definitely couldn’t have come to school full-time without it.”

For James, the scholarship has facilitated his ability to live on campus, fostering a sense of community with his fellow students. “It’s very much like a second family—and being able to be on campus really adds to that,” he says.

Jenn’s journey to UBC is not just an academic pursuit but a personal quest for identity. Adopted as a child, she only discovered her Indigenous heritage later in life.

“That part of my heritage was not relayed to the family that adopted me,” says Jenn. “It was in my adult life when I met my birth father that I found out that, in fact, I am Indigenous.”

Discovering her roots sparked a deep interest in Indigenous culture and advocacy. As a third-year student in kinesiology, Jenn believes in the Mi’kmaq principle of Two-Eyed Seeing, which encourages a holistic approach to integrating Indigenous and Western knowledge systems to help shape a thriving society.

“How do we combine the Western world with some Indigenous practices and culture and marry the two?”

A first-year student in the Indigenous Teacher Education Program (NITEP), James shares his mother’s commitment to Indigenous education. He describes the program as a continuous journey with hands-on experiential learning.

“With NITEP, we’re in classrooms, constantly interacting with students while getting your education degree over four years.”

James is driven by personal experiences in advocating for Indigenous courses during high school, propelling him to become a force for change in the field of education. As they each navigate the demands of their programs, both share their hopes for the future.

James envisions becoming a transformative educator, “Teachers just don’t become teachers because they want to teach—they also become teachers because they love the students and the environment. That’s what I hope for me.”

Jenn aims to inspire while combining Indigenous and Western modes of healthcare, “I want to instill possibility in people—and push those boundaries of Two-Eyed Seeing or science … so people can have the healthiest lives possible.”

The Waller family’s journey at UBC, shaped by their Indigenous heritage, underscores the impact of donor generosity, which Jenn sums up succinctly:

“Donors are the difference between yes and no.”

Like Jenn and James Waller, UBC is committed to shaping thriving societies.
Find out more about FORWARD, the campaign for UBC—and how you can help.