By Celia Nicholls
A NAIT instructor has been recognized for her work with Aboriginal students. Rhonda Dever received the 2018 Senator Thelma Chalifoux Award for her advocacy for, and support of Aboriginal students in the JR Shaw School of Business.
The Sen. Thelma Chalifoux Award is presented annually in recognition of individuals, groups or companies that have shown exceptional commitment to helping Aboriginal students succeed in their NAIT studies. The award was established in 2000 and named for the first Métis woman appointed to the Canadian Senate — an important member of the NAIT community as a Métis elder on campus until her death in 2017.
“My hope is that my students will explore both who they are as people [and] who they are as leaders, and then go on to share their passion [in ways that will allow them] to really make the change that they want to see happen,” said Dever.
The instructor was nominated by Morgan Reynolds, a Bachelor of Business Administration, Management student in one of Dever’s leadership classes. Reynolds said Dever had encouraged her to explore and connect with her own culture in ways she had never done previously.
In addition to her work with students like Reynolds, Dever also arranged for inspirational guests like Francyne Joe, President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, to speak to her class and extended an open invitation to the rest of NAIT to attend.
“I think it’s really important for our Aboriginal students to be able to feel like they can incorporate both their cultural and family values into their learning process,” said Dever.
Moreover, in terms of creating the right environment for Aboriginal, and indeed all student success going forward, there is a broader takeaway for NAIT faculty and the institution as a whole.
“[NAIT should] really look at “Indigenizing” our curriculum and how we can incorporate Indigenous learning into our curriculum overall,” said Dever.
Dever hopes that, with a renewed connection to their cultural identity, students can continue the process by giving back to the community.
“From an Aboriginal perspective, I would love to see a lot of our students go back and work within their home communities, and encourage others to pursue postsecondary education and be able to use the skills that we set them up with here at NAIT to go on and help their communities prosper,” said Dever.
Dever believes this idea has benefits, not just for Aboriginal students, but for everyone, leading to increased tolerance and a new understanding of the ways in which Aboriginal history in Canada continues to have a significant ongoing impact on individuals, families and communities.
“I want our Aboriginal students to share the struggles they and their families have encountered. It opens the dialogue for our other students to gain a better understanding of how the past has continued to impact so many generations,” said Dever. “…Their classmates [can also] get a glimpse into a world that most of them would never know.”
In the end, Dever thinks understanding is the most important part of a meaningful education.
“We work in such a diverse school. We have international students, we have Aboriginal students, then we have our local students. We have to be highly-aware that people come from different places with different experiences, backgrounds, and learning styles…. We can foster those differences and let that add value to the classroom experience for all of the students,” said Dever.
While NAIT boasts an extraordinary 94% satisfaction-rate amongst recent program graduates polled about their educational experience, sometimes a teacher can go above-and-beyond to give students the kind of experiences that they will carry with them outside the classroom.