Aboriginal scholarships and bursaries: how to find them

By Allison Kydd
Windspeaker Contributor

With winter session over and spring and summer sessions either underway or soon to be, this is a good time for students and prospective students to start planning for September.

Finances are always a consideration, but there are a number of scholarships and bursaries offered specifically to Aboriginal students. These awards come from both the public and the private sector; however, new awards are being developed and other awards updated, so it is sometimes difficult for both individuals and institutions to keep abreast of all the possibilities.

There are, however, some logical sources of information on scholarships and bursaries. Many post-secondary institutions offer awards themselves. For instance, Grant MacEwan College in Edmonton has formed partnerships with various other organizations in order to offer special incentives. One new award offered through the Grant MacEwan College Foundation is the Aboriginal Business Leadership Award.

As Lori Hanasyk of Grant MacEwan says, the award is "business-driven". It came about because 10 or fifteen organizations, some of them large corporations, identified the need and put together the funding. It will offer a minimum of four awards [$1,500 each] annually, and the deadline for applications is June 15 for the following academic year.

This particular initiative is not only directed to a special area of study, one leading to a certificate, diploma or degree in business or commerce, but also targets three groups of applicants. First priority will be given to one or more self-employed Aboriginal students who are attending an Alberta post-secondary institution for the first time. The next priority is for one or more mature students attending such an institution for the first time. The third priority opens up the award to one or more Aboriginal students registered in such a program and also at a public post-secondary educational institution in Alberta.

Another place for a student to go for information on education awards is his or her regional office of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. In Edmonton, the person fielding general inquiries about educational programs is Delbert Dahl. Regina Holehouse, communications officer for the same office, would also recommend the Native Counselling Centre.

The University of Alberta offers both the Native Student Services office and the Aboriginal Student Council as resources. There is also an excellent handbook which lists awards, and application forms for many of these scholarships are available at Native Student Services [Student Union Building.] Students in other parts of the country or at other institutions should make enquiries at equivalent student services organizations.

Aboriginal students should give special attention to the Northern Alberta Development Council bursaries, offered through the Alberta Heritage Scholarship Fund. Though the bursaries are not offered exclusively to Aboriginal students, the latter often have an advantage, having lived and worked in northern communities. Audrey DeWitt, of Peace River, development officer and contact person for the bursaries, suggests that information and applications are distributed to all Aboriginal communities, Métis settlements and Native cultural centres. Besides having experience living and working in the north, desirable candidates for the award have a clear idea of what they want to do, have contacted prospective employers and are near the conclusion of their university or college programs

There are other community resources, such as public libraries, which are storehouses of material on awards. One such resource is Winning Scholarships: a Students' Guide to Entrance Awards at Western Canadian Universities and Colleges (1994). There are two other volumes, one for Ontario universities and colleges (1992) and one for universities and colleges in Atlantic Canada and Quebec (1992). All are published by the University of Toronto Press. The books themselves are not user-friendly - plan to sit down and work out the codes for the institutions which interest you. However, there are separate listings for scholarships for Native students, so time spent would probably be worthwhile.

Many university libraries and public libraries also have access to the Internet by way of the World Wide Web. This is a growing source of information on practically everything.

Besides the awards offered through government programs and educational institutions, there are a number of private sector scholarships, generally offered by certain industries to those students enrolled in (or planning to enroll in) related courses of study. Indian Affairs in Ottawa published a directory of private sector funding in 1994. Though there are a limited number of copies available, and some of the awards mentioned might no longer be available, it would still be worthwhile to check in at the regional office and ask to see it.

For most of these private sector awards, status Indians, non-status Indians, Inuit and Métis all qualify; however, some requirements are more specific. For instance, eligibility for the Native Scholarship Award of the Alberta Energy Company Ltd. not only depends on candidates being first accepted into a program related to the oil and gas industry at an accredited technical school, college or university, but also stipulates that candidates have "resided in the Northwest Territories, British Columbia, Alberta, Blackfeet Reservation or Fort Berthold Reservation for the last year." For those who do qualify, however, it appears to be an excellent opportunity, since each year five $3,500 scholarships are presented.

Another private sector sponsor, the Royal Bank, has just awarded five scholarships of $1,000 per year (maximum of four years at university or two year college program) in disciplines "relevant to the banking industry." This scholarship, called the "Royal Bank Native Student Awards Program" has been active since 1992 and has awarded scholarships to 25 students. Royal Bank representatives suggest that the scholarship "provides an opportunity for the Royal Bank to strengthen its relationship with the Native community."

Xerox Canada's Aboriginal Scholarship Program is, predictably, for full-time students registered in approved Canadian institutions and pursuing academic programs "which could lead to careers in the information technology industry." This program is also generous. Four scholarships, each worth $3,000 per year, will be awarded. The deadline for applications is June 15. Study programs mentioned are computer/math sciences, business administration/commerce or engineering.

Since there are new scholarships and bursaries being offered every year, by levels of government and by the private sector, as well as by educational institutions themselves, Aboriginal students should follow up on all leads. Furthermore, if band/community organizations do not have information and applications available, candidates should request that they be made available.


Jumping the hurdles on the scholarship run

By Allison Kydd
Windspeaker Contributor

Lois Edge of Native Student Services at the University of Alberta regrets that only a handful of Aboriginal students apply for scholarships and bursaries. Says Edge, "the norm is not to apply because I may not have been successful enough."

Another difficulty for students attempting to access awards is that the "criteria for the awards is often too rigid." She offers the example of mature students, especially women, often single parents with children to support. A grade point average of 88 per cent is simply not a reasonable expectation. A better method, says Edge, is to ask for a "satisfactory grade point average," which encourages more people to apply.

She also says those funding agencies who want to help Aboriginal students might consider how there are a disproportionate number of awards given to the sciences, while the majority of Native students tend towards arts, education and Native studies. The directory of Aboriginal Students' Scholarships, Bursaries and Awards put out by Native Student Services at the University of Alberta lists about 60 awards, but Edge says that the average student would probably only find one or two for which he or she could apply.

At the same time, certain companies and funding organizations have complained of too few applications. A lucrative award - up to $10,000 for graduate students and $5,000 for undergraduates - known as the "John Paul II" and offered under the auspices of the Alberta Heritage Scholarship Fund until 1994, was discontinued because there were too few applications.

Other funding organizations, such as CanCom, who with the Canadian Native Arts Foundation and Television Northern Canada (TVNC) offer the Ross Charles Award, have asked themselves whether a decreased number of applications might be an indication that the award needs to be changed or expanded.

For instance, the Ross Charles Award was initially created in 1987 as an achievement award directed at northern communities. Two years ago, it was transformed into a training award intended to offer "young northern Aboriginal professionals" experience in the broadcasting industry. Next year, the award intends further, so it can accommodate applications from all Inuit, First Nations and Métis communities in Canada.

Similarly, the law school scholarship program offered by the federal Department of Justice to non-status Aboriginals and Métis - an award for which there are no lack of applications - has changed its emphasis since it began in1973. At first it funded a specific number of students. More recently, an amount of money has been allotted to the program every year, and the committee - with the best applications on the table - makes a decision whether to fund specific candidates for one, two or three years.

Another innovation by the justice department award program was the inclusion of funding for pre-law as well as law programs themselves. This summer program helps prepare students to compete for law school. The office of the scholarship program manager, Mireille Provost, says the program always receives more applicants than it is able to fund. The criteria used by the committee in making its choices attempt to be sensitive to a variety of circumstances.

"Need and potential for success are considered as well as merit." Moving expenses are also taken into account where applicable

Another impediment for Aboriginal students in Canada who are seeking financial assistance in the form of scholarships and bursaries appears to be that the information is sometimes hard to find. There is no one comprehensive catalogue of scholarships and bursaries to which they can refer. What there is instead is a collection of newspaper advertisements, various lists and handbooks, some of them out of date, put out by companies and institutions themselves, as well as by the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

Ellen Neumann of Native Student Services at the University of Alberta says that Native students regularly come to the office to use their handbook - which is scheduled for an update this summer - and can obtain many of the application forms right there as well. Those application forms which are not on hand can be obtained from the companies which offer the scholarships. Neumann says she hasn't seen any reluctance about applying for the awards.

Audrey de Witt of Peace River, spokesperson for the Northern Alberta Development Corporation Bursary program, hasn't noticed that Aboriginal students display any reluctance to apply for awards either. She says, "from our perspective, we get a lot of applications . . . many of them from Aboriginal students. And many are successful."

De Witt also says that Aboriginal students need not be discouraged from applying because the bursaries are not targetted specifically towards First Nations, Métis and Inuit students. Having lived in northern communities is by itself a definite advantage. Candidates are asked detailed questions about their plans and their commitment to living and working in the North, including what prospective employers they have contacted. So here again knowledge of specific communities and the opportunities in them gives an edge.

Rob Ireland, corporate affairs manager for Xerox Canada, who also widely advertise their Aboriginal Scholarship Program, which offers scholarships of $3,000 per year to four students in academic programs which could lead to careers in the information technology, also says they have no shortage of candidates. This year they had 113 applications. Since the program started in 1994, they have given out 16 awards.

Bernie McKee, education manager with the Native Education Project of the Alberta Department of Education, takes note of the scholarships and other awards which come across her desk. However, since she immediately passes them on to the schools in her area (formerly northern Alberta, now southern Alberta), and candidates apply to the agencies and private companies personally, she doesn't get an overview of the response by either students or schools. She too feels that having a comprehensive catalogue of such awards would be useful.

Check out the web

By Cheryl Petten
Windspeaker Contributor

According to one scholarship web site on the internet - www.scholarshipscanada.com - there are more than 60,000 scholarships, bursaries and awards available from organizations across Canada. The question is, what is the best way to find them and, once you have found them, how can you increase the chances that your application will receive a favorable response?

Stuart Dunn is assistant to the director with Alberta Learning, the provincial government department that administers the Alberta Scholarship program. One of the major scholarships administered by the department is the Aboriginal Health Careers Bursary, awarded to Aboriginal students in a health care field.

According to Dunn, the best place to start in a search for scholarship information is the internet.
The Alberta Learning site is located at alis.gov.ab.ca/scholarships, and contains links to the department's scholarship page, as well as to Alberta Agriculture's scholarship page. The site also includes links to colleges and universities in Alberta, as well as links to other scholarship sites.

Scholarship information is also available from a number of independent web sites, Dunn added.

Once someone has identified a few scholarships they might be interested in applying for, Dunn suggests they get a copy of the application form, and read it over. If they have any questions at all about the application, they shouldn't be afraid to ask them.

"From what I understand from my selection committee, which is made up of Aboriginal people, people in general don't like to call and ask questions, because they're afraid it makes them sound dumb. And I think, again from what my selection committee has told me, I think Aboriginal people feel this way even more strongly, because they feel that it's probably not really so much their world as somebody else's world. No question ever comes across as dumb. We're talking about money here. This is the way you get money. This is what we do, this is our job, so we get paid money to answer these questions. If anything doesn't make any sense at all, call and ask the question," Dunn said.

Another piece of advice Dunn offers to students applying for scholarships is take the time to do a good job filling out the application forms.

"One thing that really destroys applications, really ruins a good application, is just not taking a little bit of time to fill it out right. Make it neat, make it legible."

Dunn said that, with some scholarship applications, the information is sent off to a selection committee to review.

"We ask the students to send photocopies because we send the photocopies off to the selection committee and keep the original. It gives the selection committee a chance to review everything on their own time. If it's not legible, the committee isn't going to come back to the student and say, 'What did you say here? What did you mean here?' They'll just suffer through it as long as they can, and then they'll give up on that person," he said. "It really makes a world of difference - make it neat. Even if you've got nothing to say, say it neatly.

"A lot of people, by the time it comes to scholarship status, a lot of what they've done, and a lot of what's behind them, is remarkably similar. The marks are in the same range, they've accomplished certain things by the time they get to applying for a scholarship, so what really makes a lot of difference is what they say and how they say it. And that's the only thing they can influence by the time they apply for the scholarship anyway."

Dunn said most of the scholarships his department administers have a deadline for application two or three months before the next school year begins. To provide themselves with enough time for adequate preparation, he advises students to start applying for scholarships at least six to eight months before the beginning of the school year, adding that even a year in advance is not too early, especially for high school students.

"I would strongly recommend high school students start talking to their high school counsellor, even in Grade 10. At Grade 10 they can make sure they're taking the right courses that will get them into scholarships, as well. I mean, if they have two courses that they're equally interested in and they have to chose one, it makes a difference for a scholarship."

"It's like so many other things, you know, you can always make up more time before hand, you can't make it up afterwards,"he added.

Another source of information about scholarships is the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation. The foundation awards scholarships to Aboriginal students in the arts, business, sciences and health careers. Last year, scholarships and educational and cultural grants handed out by the foundation totalled $1.68 million.

Lorre Jensen is director of education for the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation. According to Jensen, the scholarships offered by the foundation fall into three categories - arts, health and general education.

Applications in each of the three categories are judged by a jury made up of Aboriginal people working in that specific field.

For a scholarship application to be successful in the arts category, Jensen indicated the most important factor is the quality of the work sample submitted by the applicant. With an arts application, students must send in a sample of their work - drama students would send in a videotape of themselves performing a scene or monologue, creative writing students would provide a sample of their writing, students in visual arts would send in slides showing samples of their work, and musicians would send in an audio tape.

"In the arts category, the thing that everyone really needs to pay best attention to, is the work sample. To do your very best - everyone must do their very best - and that's what the jury will place the most prominence on when they are reviewing."

In applications for health careers or general education scholarships, what the juries will be looking at is the applicant's academic performance. However, when reviewing a student's academic standings, the juries will take into consideration any mitigating circumstances. For instance, Jensen explained, a student who is a single parent and is getting marks of 65 per cent would be viewed by the jury as being as successful as a student with no dependents who is getting 80 per cent.

"The juries view that as real success," Jensen said. "Getting 80 per cent is a lovely thing to have happen to us all, but we do look at the individual student."

The other deciding factor in awarding scholarships in all three categories is financial need, as well as the applicant's willingness to contribute financially to his or her own education.

"We're not promoting people to get way in debt over this, but most often if students have a summer job and they're able even to save up $300, juries will view that in a very favorable way as a sign of commitment on the part of the student," Jensen said.

The deadlines for scholarship applications in the arts are March 31 and Sept. 30 of each year. The deadline for scholarships in health is May 1 each year, and the deadline for general education scholarships is June 1.

For more information about how to apply for scholarships through the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation, visit the foundation's web site atwww.naaf.ca. According to Jensen, the applications have been revised this year and are on the web site ready for downloading. Forms are available in both English and French. Applications can also be obtained by calling the foundation toll-free at 1-800-329-9780, where you can talk to Jensen or another staff member and have the appropriate application form sent out.



Increase your chances, be neat and thorough

By Joan Black
Windspeaker Contributor

It is no secret that the cost of education can leave students with a debt burden that is into the tens of thousands of dollars. People pursuing a post-secondary education, therefore, are looking for all the financial help they can get. Windspeaker contacted several people with professional experience in academic institutions to find out how students can prepare for and acquire a scholarship or bursary.

The Alberta Heritage Scholarship Fund was at the top of everyone's list for students in Alberta. The fund publishes a brochure that lists 40 scholarships administered by them. Stewart Dunn, assistant to the manager at Edmonton Advanced Education and Career Development, which manages the fund, had some advice for students wanting to increase their chances of getting a scholarship.

Dunn stressed the need to take time to proofread and revise your scholarship application before submitting it.

"Do a rough draft first," he said. "Edit it and then put it down. There are simple little mistakes I'll see on scholarships and I know the committee will get this and think, well this person's illiterate, in spite of the fact that the transcript may say they're the most wonderful person in the world.

"If people spell things wrong, or miss words or something like that, it makes them look like they aren't scholarship material. You know the people are a lot smarter than this, but we can't tell the committee 'Assume the person is smarter than the application.'

"There are things you can't affect," Dunn continued; "[for] most of our scholarships we look at transcripts and that is set. You've gone to school, you've earned your marks; there's nothing you can do at the point of applying for a scholarship that's going to affect your transcript.

"Some of the scholarships ask for reference letters . . . . It's really up to you to make sure you choose a good reference, somebody who'll give you a good letter. Encourage them to say as much as they possibly can. We have a lot of people who will say this is a wonderful kid, but if you say that in one or two sentences on a reference letter, it's not that strong.
"What I really like to encourage students [to do] is sell yourself; tell the committee why, if they have to choose between people, why they would choose you over somebody else."

It's not enough, though, to include everything about yourself you can think of.

"Some people, " Dunn said, "go on and on forever, and that's not going to work either. At some point, whoever is reading it, whether it be a job reference or a scholarship one, they're going to get tired of reading about you. Hit the details, but do it right, do it nice - legible, clean.

"Most of our scholarships, we ask them to send in a photocopy or several photocopies of the application. We keep the original and we mail the photocopies off to committee members. Some people send in photocopies that I can't read - if we catch that, we'll re-photocopy, but they shouldn't rely on that. They should make sure that they print, don't write, make it legible. Go out of your way, because those are the little things you can influence the committee with."

Asked if there was a general rule as to how much marks count as compared to other factors, Dunn said it was difficult to be specific about percentages.

"It does vary so much from scholarship to scholarship. The scholarship we give out the most, the Alexander Rutherford, is solely based on marks; the only way they can mess it up on the application form is, you know, we still get people who don't even know their own address and things like that, and even that doesn't disqualify them; it just means we can't get money out to them.

"For most other competitions where it's beyond marks, it usually becomes a question of where they will rate marks into it. One third of it may be marks; one third of it may be other accomplishments; and one third of it going on to an essay or something like that. In all of these things, what I find consistently is that [in] the essay-type questions, the students could do a lot better than they do.

"At the higher level of scholarships we ask them if they've ever had publications, other awards . . . they can't change that [either]. What they can change, though, is illegibility, the whole tone of their application. They can make that neat and crisp."

Dunn sums up his advice by saying students should consult their high school counsellors or the awards office in their university or college for the latest information about availability of scholarships and how to apply.

Corey Crewe, a placement testing co-ordinator at Alberta College, agrees that the institution you are attending is the best place to start. He asked some students what they thought about seeking scholarships. They told him that every school should have a display board for scholarships and that educators should remind the students to review it frequently for new information. As do most schools, Alberta College keeps a list of scholarship sources known to them - the government ones and many private ones. They urge students to ask their parents about their employers' scholarships and bursaries, too, Crewe said. Many companies offer educational support that people don't even know about.

The Royal Bank is one corporation that since 1992 has granted educational awards through its Native Student Awards Program. Five students receive $4,000 annually for their educational expenses to a maximum of four years at university or two years at college. Recipients who are interested may also be considered for summer and post-graduate employment with the bank. An independent committee of Aboriginal academics reviews the applications and selects students according to personal and academic achievement and financial need. The awards are available to status and non-status Indians, Inuit and Métis.

The biggest problem Crewe sees is that students are not always aware of who should be applying for what. He stresses talking to your school's scholarship advisor, rather than going on your own. Sometimes advisors know about additional scholarships for which you should apply, and they can help with resumes, which may be required.

The other thing Crew encourages is for students to prepare their grades at least a year before applying for a scholarship, in order to beat the competition. Personal qualities, such as leadership, volunteerism, and good recommendations from teachers and community leaders also count, he said.

Jack Fuller, a spokesman with Continuing Education Services at Edmonton Public Schools, reiterated that about 80 per cent of scholarships are based on academic merit, but that personal attributes also matter.

Fuller identified the Rutherford Scholarship from the Alberta Heritage Trust Fund as the largest in this province, benefiting students who have an average of 80 per cent over five courses. Six thousand people qualify for the Rutherford every year and may receive $1,500 each over three years of study. People who have completed Grade 12 can apply, he said, even adults who graduated with high averages years ago.

"Go for it even if you think you're not qualified," Fuller advises. "A number of scholarships are not claimed every year - the board may waive some of the requirements."

In Edmonton, Fuller said, there are 300 to 400 scholarships administered by organizations such as the Masons, and corporations such as MacDonald's, to which students can apply. About 5,000 scholarships are available across Canada. Every public school has a book listing available scholarships, Fuller added. Finally, he noted that many post-secondary institutions put their scholarship information on the internet.