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Why Give | Impact stories

How one alumna is helping Indigenous learners in the Okanagan find a place at UBC

Theresa Arsenault created an endowed award at UBC Okanagan, to support Indigenous learners in the Aboriginal Access Studies stream.

Theresa Arsenault, QC

For Kalli Van Stone, an undergraduate in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science at UBC Okanagan, the thought of returning to school as a mature Indigenous student was somewhat daunting.

“It was stressful to come back to school,” says Kalli, who is Syilx and Secwepemc in the Okanagan Nation. “I had to leave the full-time work I was doing. My income just changed completely and went from something steady to something completely uncertain.”

A lot of that stress was lifted, however, when Kalli was a recipient of the Theresa Arsenault Aboriginal Access Studies Award—created by UBC alumna Theresa Arsenault, QC.

“This is peace of mind—and I’m grateful it was offered specifically for access study students who didn’t enter university the conventional way,” says Kalli. “For her to offer material support for Indigenous students—and to do that of her own accord—means a lot to me.”

In Theresa Arsenault’s mind, her decision to create an award at UBC was about removing barriers to Indigenous learners that were historical and systemic.

“For Indigenous people, who have been really unfairly treated in the European settlement of this country, it seemed one of the best ways I could make a difference would be to assist Indigenous students who wanted to access higher education,” says Theresa. “I wanted to benefit people who had financial barriers that might be preventing them from accessing UBC.”

The award fund endowed by Theresa Arsenault is specifically for students in the Aboriginal Access Studies stream, explains Adrienne Vedan, Director of Indigenous Programs & Services at UBC Okanagan.

“Aboriginal Access Studies is a bridging program for Indigenous students who want to transition to undergraduate programs at the Okanagan campus. Students who come through this pathway can take up to a maximum of twenty-four credits to gain admission into an undergraduate degree program.”

Adrienne recognizes this endowment as an integral part of eliminating barriers for Indigenous learners at the university.

“This award removes barriers and allows Indigenous students that come through this bridging year to be part of the UBC student community.”

Brianna Chernenkoff is a student in Earth and Environmental Sciences at UBC Okanagan and an undergraduate research assistant with the School of Education. As a past recipient of the Theresa Arsenault Aboriginal Access Studies Award, she is grateful for the support.

“It helped me get through last year, and I came out financially stable,” says Brianna. “What else could a student ask for?”

Kalli Van Stone also sees it as an opportunity for Indigenous learners to bring something back to the classroom to grow cultural understanding.

“Within the institution of academia, whether that be in an arts faculty course like Indigenous Studies or if I’m doing math, wherever I am at, I like to bring my culture and language into the space I’m in.”

The intersection of culture, language and education is foundational to UBC Okanagan’s ongoing engagement with Indigenous learners.

“The exciting thing about Aboriginal Access Studies is we’ve had students transition to undergraduate degree programs in management, engineering, sciences, nursing and arts,” says Adrienne Vedan. “So there really is an opportunity—and a place—here for you.”