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Elyse Campbell

My name is Elyse Campbell and I am Algonquin from Greater Golden Lake in Ontario and, like many of my peers, my path to success was not a direct one. Because my family moved every few years, my dad taught me a lot about hard work through house renovations. He would come home from his day job and immediately put on his work clothes and work on the house all night. My mom, sister, brother and I were expected to work alongside him unless we had homework.

When my parents divorced in my early teens, they just worked harder, stressed more about money and seemed generally unhappy with their jobs and their lives but, without more than a high school diploma, they had no choice but to keep working at a factory. That’s when I learned the value of education – it gives you choices on where and how you want to work and the ability to support yourself and live comfortably. I knew I wanted to go as far as I could with my education to prevent myself from feeling “stuck” in my work.

My parents also taught me the importance of ownership and money management: they always paid for the basics but when I wanted brand-name clothes, toys or electronics, I had to earn them and, so, at age 12, I started balancing school with babysitting to earn money to buy my own things or join in on special school trips and events. At 14, I was a tour guide at a museum, pumped gas at a station in the city and still worked my way through school. That was how I saved up to buy my first car at 16 and started to see the freedom in traveling. It was then that I vowed I would find ways to see the world as best I could and to work hard to make sure I had enough money to never have to worry or do without again.

I may have been a straight-A student but I always struggled through my readings and with math. When I was preparing for college, I learned that I had attention deficit disorder (ADD) and dyslexia – yet I wasn’t going to let that stop me! I got A grades when I didn’t know I had a learning disability so why should I stop now that it had a name?

At the age of 17, I was accepted to university on scholarship for kinesiology. However, I needed to work to save up for my living expenses and it was then that I was promoted to a manager-in-training and moved to Niagara Falls to run my own clothing store. That was when I fell in love with business and decided to do a diploma instead of a degree. I completed two three-year diplomas in international trade in business administration and marketing simultaneously through Fleming College in Peterborough, ON, found an incredible job and began working toward my commerce degree.

My business education and experience has taken me all across Europe, North America and China. I have lived in many places but have settled in Saskatoon where I am involved with the Aboriginal communities here. As a former career coach with Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies (SIIT), I met many people who were missing a way to carve a path from their home communities into their future careers. From that work, I could see that the path has three key starting points:

  1. Confidence in your own abilities. 
  2. Awareness of the opportunities available to you. 
  3. Role models to prove it can be done.

After meeting such incredible Aboriginal people from all walks of life, I decided to do my Masters in Business Administration (MBA) and represent them at the executive level wherever I could. I knew I couldn’t afford the tuition and would be living solely off of loans and part-time work and wasn’t sure if I could handle the stress or even survive the program but I took the leap of faith in 2011 and am now proud to be a part of the largest University of Saskatchewan Edwards School of Business MBA class in history and can honestly say that the debt, time and effort were absolutely worth it. The interest from employers alone (being an Aboriginal MBA is still fairly rare) and it’s a pretty amazing feeling to be in such high demand.

And, to top it all off, in the middle of my hectic school/work year, I had the absolute honour of being chosen to attend Inclusion Works ’12. I didn’t even have enough in my bank account for cab fare from the airport but thanks to the generous sponsors and the Aboriginal Human Resource Council, I was able participate in more than eight interviews in a matter of three days culminating in a few fantastic offers from large corporations! 

It hasn’t been an easy journey but someone once told me that nothing is impossible for a willing heart and I think that each one of us are capable of greatness in our own way, no matter how high the barrier is. I hope to be a part of the group to knock down more of those barriers for the next generation and am looking to pursue a doctorate degree in management in the near future – right after I pay back some student loans!

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