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Chase Cardinal will be pursuing a business degree after participating in the In.Business program. Photo Credit: Koren Bear

In.Business program pairs Aboriginal leaders with students to explore their educational journey  

NANAIMO, BC: As the only Indigenous student in his university undergraduate and graduate classes, Bernard Gilbert struggled to find connection to campus life.

“There were times where I felt I did not belong in university,” says Gilbert, whose traditional name – Nlaka’pamux – translates to “Running Elk.” He is Shuswap from the Secwépemc territory.

In high-school, he developed a crippling fear of failure, and ultimately ended up dropping out of school. With the support of his mother’s unwavering belief, Gilbert refocused his energy from hockey to studying, and began pursuing a lengthy academic career. His journey began with achieving a Business Certificate, followed by a Business Diploma, then a Bachelor of Business degree, and finally a Master’s in Business Administration. During his graduate studies, Gilbert pursued a dual Master’s of Business degree from Vancouver Island University (VIU) and the University of Hertfordshire, became a UBC Sauder Ch’nook Scholar, and was actively involved as a mentor for In.Business – a national mentorship program for Indigenous youth facilitated by the Purdy Crawford Chair in Aboriginal Business studies at Cape Breton University (CBU).

The Nova Scotia pilot project of the program gained national attention in 2013 when it received a $5 million federal government grant in matching funds to become a Canadian-wide campaign. The Pacific region of the program includes Alberta and BC and is facilitated by CBU in partnership with VIU.

“In.Business gives Indigenous youth the opportunity to realize what a business education can do for them, and builds meaningful connections with their mentors,” says Koren Bear, In.Business Pacific Regional Manager.

Students are usually nominated by their teachers; however, they can apply for the program without a referral. Participants meet for a one-day conference at VIU before embarking on a seven-month journey of weekly online-based challenges. The core of the program is matching students with Aboriginal mentors who have a background in business. Bear hopes to incorporate regular local meet-ups between mentors and students to encourage more engagement.

Mentors were not readily available when Gilbert was in high-school which is one reason he decided to become a leader himself. “Our youth are our future leaders, and it is our obligation as scholars and professionals to help our Indigenous youth succeed,” he says.

Through the mentorship program, Gilbert gained as much wisdom as he gave support to students. “I was able to witness the youths’ abstract thinking throughout the process through their inquisitive questions and challenging of modern ways of thinking, which was exhilarating,” he says.

The Alberta and BC program has more than 100 applications each year, and Bear says they try to select students who show a true curiosity and enthusiasm for the program.

For Chase Cardinal, his curiosity for the program led him to participate two years in a row. “I always considered pursuing a business degree, but being able to experience Vancouver Island University opened my eyes to the possibility,” he says.

Since he was twelve years old, Cardinal began investing his time to develop his dream of becoming a make-up artist and special effects designer. “I do special effects for prop making and make-up,” he says. “From my experience of talking to people I have realized you need to be knowledgeable of business to be a successful entrepreneurial artist.”

Cardinal won the In.Business 60 Second Sell Competition and National Challenge two years in a row. This year, he also won a gold medal for a job skill demonstration in prosthetics application at Skills Canada.

“Most high school students don’t know exactly what they want to do,” Cardinal says. “I’d suggest for my peers to try everything to see what inspires them. In.Business truly helped lead me in the direction I want to go in.”

Cardinal will be attending the Faculty of Management at VIU this fall. After completing his degree, he hopes to open his own studio and continue to work on film productions.

The In.Business program is one example of how VIU is encouraging Indigenous learners to consider studying in the Faculty of Management. The program begins this year in November, and students can apply online to participate.

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