Student works on degree, making a difference
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Prairie-Rose Hapa always wanted to go to university and help families. Now, she is on her way to becoming a social worker, with the support of the Access Program.
“I went into social work because I was raised by my grandparents. My mother wasn’t capable of it because of residential schools. My grandpa was involved in the 60s scoop and I think he was trying to give us a positive outlook on child welfare and being raised in our community,” says the Dakota social work student from Sioux Valley Dakota Nation.
The Access Program at the University of Manitoba provides holistic support to Indigenous, newcomer, and other U of M students, empowering them on their path to success.
“Access gave me the confidence to go to university and pursue my dreams,” she says. “They definitely gave me enough support to grow in an academic way, and as a person.”
Thanks to her grandpa’s influence, Hapa was raised with her traditions. He introduced her to the sweat lodge and traditional ceremonies as a child. Then he sent her to Winnipeg to live with her auntie and complete high school.
“He wanted me to have a better opportunity to go to university.”
As a university student and a young mom of two children, Hapa found the U of M to be a big place and she often went to the people at Access for guidance and support. “They just kept helping me all the time.”
She often found comfort in Migizi Agamik (Bald Eagle Lodge), the Indigenous space that is home to the program on the Fort Garry campus. “It looked like a place where I would feel comfortable and I just went to it. They welcomed me with open arms, and they were supportive right away, as soon as I met all of them. Everyone was so nice.”
First to get a degree
Hapa wanted to be the first one in her family to go to university and earn a degree. The process has not been without its challenges, but Access was there to assist her in her course choices, scheduling, and through the application process. It took more than one try to get in to her chosen faculty, but she was reassured and encouraged to keep at it. There was always a plan, she says.
“Getting denied by a faculty was hard. But Access was still there saying let’s fill this out one more time. Let’s be optimistic. And I had something to fall back on.”
As a social work student, she dreams of making a difference for families.
“I think going into social work, my goal would be to make social work better for Indigenous people and kind of continue the goal that my grandpa had. He raised me and I was able to have a family connection. Now I want to help other families.”
Access is a program offering support including personal counselling, academic advising, tutoring, a computer lab, an Elder, and they even let students know about bursaries and how to apply for them, she says. “I actually don’t know how I would have made it without them, how I would know all the things that I know now.”
Students in communities like Hapa’s home community should know about Access, she says, “Because they offer all the things you are used to when you are in a community.”
The culture shock of coming to a big campus in the city can be overwhelming. “Just seeing the different people, the different values, the different beliefs that are out there. It makes you challenge your own assumptions, your own beliefs, your own perceptions.”
Meeting other Indigenous people including Inuit and Dene, hearing about their culture and taking part in cultural experiences through Access including sharing circles and ceremonies, is an incredible experience of growth and coming together.
Young people should go to university and give it their best shot, she says. “It opens so many doors for you. Come to the U of M, and with Access, you will have all the support you need. It gives you a sense of belonging and community. It’s a really good program.”
Hapa encourages Indigenous residents of Manitoba to apply to the Access Program, and attend the University of Manitoba this fall. Application deadline is May 1. Apply now.