Access instructor Louise Olson honoured with Migizii Award
Students appreciate her support
For Louise Olson, the Access Program students are like her own children. In Access’s smaller classes, she really has the opportunity to get to know them, watch them grow, and cheer them on. She has done so for the past 20 years.
At this year’s Graduation Pow Wow, the Access Program instructor and academic specialist in reading and writing was honoured with the Migizii Award, for going above and beyond to make a significant impact on Indigenous students. She works with students, supporting them to be confident in their words, and to secure bursaries and financial assistance from a variety of sources as Access does not provide financial support.
“The award allows graduates to say thank you in a very special way. They appreciate and value the extra support Access can provide. They are feeling confident. They are saying thank you for me, and for Access being part of their life and walking with them on their journey. That’s what we do here. Whatever student needs, we are here to support them,” says Olson.
The Access Program, offered through Extended Education at the U of M, provides holistic support to Indigenous, newcomer, and other U of M students, empowering them on their path to success.
Olson fondly picks up a small grey cat that sits on her desk, noting how it was a gift of appreciation from the little sister of one of her students.
With a passion for the power of words, Olson teaches intro to university, English composition, and writing about literature with an Indigenous focus. “We are not all Carol Shields or Margaret Laurence, but we can all be academic writers. I show students they can do this. They can make it a part of who they are. Academic reading and writing are tools they will need to be successful. They need to understand the power of words and language and be confident in their abilities.”
She takes pride in helping some students improve their English skills, and appreciates when others can see themselves in shared experiences in literature.
When a student submits a resume or bursary application, it has to stand on its own, she says. “All we have is what’s on the page. It has to be strong, credible writing. I have helped students to write many things. We have worked together to write obituaries (for close family members), cover letters, applications. I have shown them how to write their resumes. “
Cheering them on
Some students say if you can get Louise Olson to help you to submit your request for a bursary, you’ll get it. That’s because she really believes in you.
“If you deserve it, I will do my best. I’ll be that cheerleader,” says Olson, reviewing the list of Access Program students who have received a total of over $225,000 in bursaries and financial aid this year with the support of Access staff. “It’s an excellent year. Other years have been just as strong.”
Olson and other Access staff want so much for their students to succeed, so they keep their eyes open for opportunities that might fit for their students and encourage and help them to apply for them. Lorna Trapp shares bursary and funding opportunities often via email, and Olson always encourages her students to read them.
“What we’ve got here at Access is so unique. It’s like a big hug. It’s a tailored approach to education, a place for students to belong, and we are here to support them. “
Students struggling to find a way to go to university will find one with Access. Here they find support to help them overcome personal, family, and financial problems.
“Yes, there is always a way to pay for university. Find the connections. Look at where you’re from. I get to know students. I follow them along. I suggest a wide range of possibilities. I encourage them. “
Olson wants students to know that she understands how life can be expensive. “We all need to get groceries. Money gets you freedom. I had an education. I supported my children, travelled. I always had a strong sense of money coming in. You can do that too. “
Over her 20 years with Access, Olson estimates she has written about 1,300 letters of support for students pursuing bursaries and funding. At times, she wrote over 120 in a year.
“We have so many amazing students. If the only thing holding them back is finances, we try to help them. There are so many awards available.”
“I know this is where I am meant to be,” says Olson. “I feel so blessed and so lucky that I love my work and I know I am making a positive impact. This is where I belong.”
If you know a student who could benefit from the Access Program, encourage them to apply now. Application deadline is June 1.