Several years after the Spitz Fellows Program first began offering support to Indigenous women pursuing a Bachelor of Commerce (BCom) at the UBC Sauder School of Business, the Spitz family—Warren, Maureen, and their adult children Gregory, Kelsey and Mathew—has generously committed an additional $500,000 to ensure the continued success and impact of the program.
Launched by the Spitz family in 2015 with a $1 million initial gift, the program was developed in consultation with UBC Sauder and Ch’nook Indigenous Business Education, and with input from Indigenous and academic communities.
A cornerstone of the program, the Spitz Family Award for Indigenous Women, is valued at a minimum of $10,000 per academic year and can be renewed until the Fellow graduates. Additional funding is available to cover student expenses like housing, food, childcare, university orientation programs, and even travel.
While pursuing his UBC BCom degree, Warren Spitz spent his summers working in Namu and Bella Bella, British Columbia. While there, friends and coworkers often spoke about the barriers to post-secondary education. The relationships he formed and the perspective he gained during this impactful period of his life eventually inspired him and his family to create the Spitz Fellows Program years later.
As one of the program architects, UBC MBA alum Maureen Spitz recalls how intentional she and her family were in designing something they hoped could serve as a community capacity-building initiative that truly addressed the full spectrum of financial pressures felt by students.
“We wanted to remove as many barriers as we could, and that meant not restricting or setting boundaries around what kind of financial assistance we provided,” says Maureen of the family’s philanthropic philosophy. “It’s not limited to university entrance fees, housing costs, or books.”
With her passion for social impact and gender justice, and professional background in the not-for-profit sector, Kelsey Spitz-Dietrich played a key role in mapping out much of the program, including its defining theme: leadership.
“Leadership is not one thing—there are so many forms of leadership. University is one opportunity to further discover and pursue the leader we envision of ourselves and we wanted to unlock that opportunity as much as possible for the Fellows,” says Kelsey.
Flexibility, focus, and new bonds
The financial support has enabled Spitz Fellow Hannah Koroll to pursue her passions and focus on her studies.
“As a varsity athlete who doesn’t have the flexibility for a part-time job during the school year, the Spitz Family Award allows me to focus on my schoolwork and takes a huge burden off of my family,” says Hannah, a member of the UBC Women’s Hockey Team.
She says building close relationships with peers in the program helps the students lean into their own leadership styles.
“The women who are further along in their studies mentor the new ones coming in,” says Hannah. “It helps you develop a lot of leadership skills—taking someone under your wing and mentoring them throughout the process of transitioning into university.”
Hannah also credits her friends in the program for helping her narrow in on her academic specialization of accounting. “By talking to them, I figured out what each discipline looks like and that helped me navigate and decide which one I wanted to choose.”
When UBC BCom alum Michelle Stanwood first joined the Spitz Fellows Program, she was struck by how warmly she was welcomed into the community.
“We have a group chat on Facebook. If anyone has questions, the rest of the Spitz Fellows are there to answer and support. I’ve never had a group of people be so giving from the outset, even when we barely knew each other,” says Michelle. “It was so welcoming and supportive, which is what I think the Spitz Fellows Program is there to encourage.”
Had it not been for the financial support, Michelle says she would have had to work upwards of 30 hours a week at her part-time job to fund her education.
“Receiving the Spitz Fellows Award meant I could afford to move closer to UBC rather than live [at home with my parents] in New Westminster,” says Michelle.“With a much shorter commute and less time spent working, I was able to take more courses each semester and I didn’t have to delay my graduation.”
A milestone moment to bring everyone together
Maureen says a personal highlight of her involvement in the Spitz Fellows Program has been getting together with the students every year. In March 2022, after two years of separation because of COVID-19, Warren, Maureen, former Dean Robert Helsley, and several of the Spitz Fellows were finally able to meet for a luncheon at UBC Sauder.
For the Spitz family, it was milestone moment after such a long period—a chance to further connect with the students and strengthen the personal relationships they so deeply value.
“Every time we have these gatherings, I am so impressed by the women. They are truly amazing, they are passionate, and they really care about what they’re doing,” says Maureen. “They have formed great friendships with each other and they are an entity unto themselves.”
The bright road ahead
Both Michelle and Hannah chose accounting as their specialization and plan to pursue the Charted Professional Accountant (CPA) designation.
This past summer, Hannah secured an internship with KPMG in her hometown of Saskatoon. Now, she’s back taking full-time classes and still playing with the UBC Women’s Hockey Team as she readies to graduate in spring 2023.
When Michelle graduated last spring, she received job offers from all of the Big Four accounting firms right out of school. Today, she works as a staff accountant in audit services at Deloitte and the tight bonds she formed within the Spitz Fellows Program have extended into her workplace—one of her colleagues is former Spitz Fellow, Emily St. Cyr.
The formative years they spent as Spitz Fellows have been defined by “supportive professors who truly enjoy teaching and a supportive learning environment where students can grow, academically, personally, and professionally,” says Michelle.
It’s an experience Hannah hopes to one day foster for future generations of business students. “I would really like to be able to give back to something like the Spitz Fellows Program because I know how much it has helped me and the impact it’s had on my life.”