PHD in Canada

UBC program increases aboriginal PhD graduation rate

Shelly Johnson, whose traditional name is Mukwa Musayette, meaning “walking with the bears, ” was among the aboriginal graduates who recently received a PhD during the May 2012 ceremony at UBC.

The event was more than just a celebration of personal accomplishment for Johnson. She is one of 11 aboriginal students who got graduate degrees this year from UBC’s faculty of education – the highest number ever in the faculty’s history or for any education faculty in Canada.

The 50-year-old Saulteaux from Keeseekoose First Nations in Saskatchewan, was one of the 15 aboriginal students who enrolled in 2006. That’s when a special graduate program that focused on indigenous leadership and policy began at the faculty.

The program specifically uses the history and culture of indigenous people to create models of teaching and mentoring, which can be taken back to their communities, if graduates decide to teach.

Johnson said she chose UBC because it was the only school that provided the opportunity to take classes in indigenous studies as a master’s program — where she started before her PhD — in Canada.

“I feel very happy that I enrolled in the program. I am happy I achieved my dreams. It is an opportunity to help young people think about post-secondary education and the future.”

Johnson was one of the five graduates during the first ceremony. The other six graduated in November.

In the past, the number of aboriginal graduates from the faculty has hovered around one or two.

The associate dean of indigenous education, Jo-Ann Archibald, attributes the success to strategies put in place by the faculty and the school to encourage indigenous student enrolment. Of the original 15 students the program attracted, 13 were First Nations from Canada. Another two were from other indigenous groups in other countries.

“This program greatly increased the number of our students, ” She said. “We also provided funding for newly admitted indigenous PhD students.”

That funding covered tuition only.

Johnson was quick to state that, she, like the other students, took advantage of the funding provided by the school.

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