Learning clicks ambassador Alannah

This University of Alberta native studies student overcame her fears to earn her degree.


Learning clicks ambassador Alannah

I moved to Wetaskiwin when I was 7 from Wikwemikong First Nation in Ontario. I loved performing in dance, choir and cheerleading.

After high school, I chose to upgrade at Centre High in Edmonton and found the Native Studies program at the University of Alberta (U of A).

I was the first in my family to attend university.

After overcoming my fear and self-doubt, I thrived finishing my fifth year in the honours program. I also served as Secretary, Vice-President and President of the Native Studies Student Association. I won an award for my research on the significance of Indigenous women in Indigenous cinema. I wrote my fourth year honours paper about misrepresentations of Indigenous women in media. I’ve had amazing employment opportunities as a teacher’s assistant for an Indigenous art class, a research assistant and a presenter for an online course called “Indigenous Canada.”

My biggest obstacle was myself, after I broke through my self-limiting beliefs, I was able to find my passion for Native Studies and combine it with my interest in film and media.

Alberta ran this peer-developed program from 2007 until 2019. Ambassadors blogged and visited classrooms to inspire students to plan their post-secondary journey. These ambassadors are now in the workforce but their stories can still inspire continuous education.


I never thought I’d go to university

In high school I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life. It sounded like a huge decision to make without knowing who I was. Coming from a small town, my only real goal at that time was to move to a city. I hadn’t really thought about where, or what I’d do when I got there. I was an average student, so university or college weren’t even on my radar.

I remember grade 12 Career Day with all the post-secondary school booths giving us information to help plan our futures. At the University of Alberta booth, I picked up a brochure with a picture of smiling students and thought this is where all my smart friends are going to go. I didn’t allow myself any ‘wishful’ thinking, so I returned it.

Upgrading helped me discover my options

After I graduated high school, I attended Centre High in downtown Edmonton to upgrade my marks and buy myself more time to figure out what my next move would be. It was at Centre High that I discovered my potential and realized I could attend post-secondary.

Just like in high school, Centre High held a Career Day, and it was mandatory to attend at least 2 sessions. I attended a NAIT session to learn more about their digital media program. My second session was about the Faculty of Native Studies at the U of A.

I’ll be honest, I mainly attended the session to fulfill the Career Day requirements. During the session about Native Studies I learned how to apply, and the programs and certificates offered. I kept that information in the back of my mind, but I wasn’t really planning to apply.

In a presentation later that semester, a professor from Native Studies, Chris Andersen, explained:

  • what students would learn in the Native Studies program
  • the value of that knowledge
  • how it carried out into the working world

I was interested and decided to do a student shadow where I attended an evening class with Professor Andersen. The lecture really resonated with me. I could imagine myself attending classes and being fully engaged in the material. Then and there, I was sold.

Building up my confidence

I should note that I had very little confidence in my ability to get good grades or write term papers but, I took a chance and saved up my money to apply at the U of A. In June, I received my acceptance letter. I felt a rush of excitement. I enrolled and started that fall. I worked hard to build my confidence and limit my negative mental self-talk. I remember telling myself when I was stressed and nervous, “I can do this, and I will do this.”

I was proud to earn a 94% on my first term paper in my Anthropology 101 course. I wrote about the differences and similarities between orangutans and humans. I started working on the paper a month in advance but, it was totally worth it. That mark showed me that I was totally capable of doing this university thing. That was the confidence boost I needed to fuel my determination to finish my degree. Now, as I wrap up my last semester in Native Studies, I look back to the Career Day in my high school gymnasium and wish I could tell my younger self that there is absolutely a place for me in post-secondary. And there’s a place for you, too.

Try being a student shadow for a day

Choosing what I wanted to study in post-secondary took time make sure you do the research. Attend career days, open houses, campus tours or anything that will give you the information you need to decide. Let me tell you why:

  • A student shadow allows you to spend a day on campus sitting in on actual post-secondary classes. You can experience what it’s like to be student to see if you can picture yourself being a student.
  • Remember post-secondary institutions vary significantly, every campus has its own unique ‘feel’, so a few student shadows might help you find your ideal fit. The location, campus size, facilities and programs will all differ, this is part of your research.
  • My student shadow in faculty of Native Studies at the U of A, explained that small classes mean more professor interaction. Some classes are seminars with an open discussion, while others are lectures for taking notes. University wasn’t as stressful or boring as I’d imagined.
  • Post-secondary is not the same as high school with general subjects, here you pick the topics you want to study. I found it was easy to listen to the instructor because I was fully engaged in the lecture and discussions. As I sat in that classroom I found the confidence to know this was the program for me.
  • If you aren’t entirely sure if a school or program is 'the one', see what post-secondary schools have to offer. The U of A offers Indigenous-focused tours.

Student life

I was the first in my immediate family to go university. I didn’t have older siblings to give me advice or show me the ropes. Most of my high school friends took some time off or moved away. When I was accepted by the U of A I felt both thrilled and terrified. I was happy my parents were super proud of me but, I also felt a lot of pressure not to disappoint them. I thought I needed to know what I was doing, and I had no one for advice, so I didn’t tell anyone I was scared.

In my first year of university, I pushed myself to be strictly focused on my studies. I’d go to class then straight home to study. For my first round of midterms, I studied hard and earned good grades, but I didn’t know the signs of depression or how to recognize that I was putting stress on my mental health. Post-secondary does require hard work, but there should still downtime. In my second year, I got involved, joined groups and started building my network.

I ended up becoming the Secretary for the Native Studies Student Association. The association introduced me to a community of people with a similar background, we could share our experiences and connect, I wasn’t alone. Our association made campus feel like home and I met great people that I hope will be lifelong friends. Looking back, I should have taken time for myself and joined the campus community when I started to improve my experience of student life. Education is about the journey and the destination!


Learn from other ambassadors or watch these videos:

Alberta Learning Information System (ALIS) resources:

Also visit your learning path to post-secondary.