Student stories

Celebrating engagement with Indigenous communities through co-op

Richel Donaldson

Pauquachin First Nation

After connecting with community members of the Pauquachin First Nation during her final co-operative education (co-op) work term, Richel Donaldson is one step closer to the work she envisions for herself after graduation.

Richel, a political science and Indigenous studies student of Tsimshian ancestry, spent four months working as a coordinator with the Hummingbird Project, where she collaborated with Pauquachin community members to help them create and carry out personalized wellness plans. “Being able to work within this community was very meaningful to me,” she says. “I’ve focused on healing, resistance and survival in Indigenous communities over the course of my studies – something this co-op position has allowed me to be involved with first hand.”

Richel is a champion of co-op and has embraced the opportunity to explore her career interests through the program.  “I knew co-op would help me explore my options and find out what sort of environment I’d like to work in,” she says. “I knew it was so important to have practical experience on my résumé when I graduated.”

Her interest in research and community engagement in Indigenous communities led her to join LE,NONET, a project that provides a suite of programs designed to welcome and support Indigenous students throughout their educational journeys at the University of Victoria. Working together with Lalita Kines, who is the LE,NONET Experiential and Community Learning Coordinator,  Richel was able to secure a work term that focused on community outreach with Pauquachin First Nation. 

Over the course of her work term, Richel guided groups and individuals towards wellness goals and relevant resources within their community.  “We approached it holistically, giving people the choice to focus on any sort of physical, mental, spiritual or emotional goal,” she says of the project.

She was also responsible for coordinating a community celebration and wellness fair to mark the end of their three-month goal setting session—this event brought together more than 100 local wellness practitioners, vendors and community members. “We got to see the whole community engage and talk about those who had set and achieved their goals,” she says. “Because of that, our second round of goal setting was much bigger. It was great to see the program grow.”

Richel’s position with Pauquachin First Nation would not have been possible without the assistance of the President’s Excellence Fund, a fund that supports Indigenous communities and organizations to hire UVic co-op students. “The President’s Excellence Fund is an amazing way to give communities or organizations that wouldn’t normally be able to hire a co-op student the chance to do so,” says Richel. “For Indigenous communities, the ability to bring in students is a big deal.”

The President’s Excellence Fund has given Richel the opportunity to engage in rich and meaningful experiential learning in an area she’s extremely passionate about. “The community knowledge that I’ve gained has grounded everything I’ve learned as a student, and it’s complemented my studies so well.”

As she approaches graduation, Richel looks forward to bringing her wealth of experience and knowledge to the BC Legislative Internship Program early next year--a position, she says, that she secured largely in part to co-op. “The hiring committee was impressed not only with my level of work experience but also the level of community engagement I’d been able to demonstrate through my experiences.” 

Beyond her internship with the BC Legislature, Richel is eager to continue her work with Indigenous communities. “My personal interests lay with Indigenous women, and I’d like to see myself in a position where I can help them heal from past trauma and empower them to become more independent.”

As she begins to prepare for life after UVic, Richel knows that co-op will play a key role in her future. “For someone who hasn’t graduated yet, I have all of this experience on my résumé,” she says. “It’s pretty cool knowing that co-op means a lot to the people who are going to be hiring me.”

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