Aspiring executive director returns to college to further education

By Sam Laskaris
Cando Contributor

A desire to secure some more lucrative jobs led to Deanna Cunningham becoming a student again.

Cunningham, a 34-year-old Metis woman, had graduated from her high school studies in High Prairie, Alta., when she was 18.

She was able to find some steady employment over the years.

“I’ve done a lot of administrative work,” she said. “But I felt I was getting passed up for jobs because I didn’t have that diploma.”

In order to try and secure herself a better future and have an opportunity to land better positions, Cunningham opted to return to school.

She’s now a first-year student in the business administration program at NorQuest College in Edmonton, the Alberta capital which she has called home now for the past 14 years.

Besides taking pride in furthering her education now, Cunningham can also beam over the fact she is one of the eight recent recipients of the Indigenous Scholarship Program.

The National Indigenous Economic Education Fund, Cando’s charitable organization, teamed up with CIBC to provide the scholarship program for four years, from 2019 through 2022.

A total of $44,000 in scholarship money is available each year. Eight post-secondary students are scholarship recipients each year, being awarded funds ranging from $2,000 to $10,000.

Cunningham was one of two $10,000 recipients this year.

“It helps out so much,” she said. “If I didn’t have any scholarships, I wouldn’t be able to attend.”

Cunningham has already put the money that she received to good use.

“I paid off my tuition and I paid off my daughter’s braces,” she said.

Cunningham, who estimates her first-semester tuition and textbooks cost about $7,000, has a  

16-year-old daughter. Plus, she also helped raise her younger brother, who is now 20.

Cunningham found out a couple of weeks before December that she was a scholarship recipient.

“I was really shocked when I opened my email,” she said. “I thought I could really use this right now. It was really helpful. It was awesome.”

Before being accepted into NorQuest’s business administration program, Cunningham first had to complete a Pathway to Business course at the college, since she didn’t have all the necessary requirements from her high school credits.

Cunningham’s current program last two years. But she’s already made up her mind that she wants to further her schooling after that as well.

She is keen to obtain a Bachelor’s degree in business administration and human resources from the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, also located in Edmonton.

Cunningham had worked as a trust examination officer for the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) last summer.

She’s also hoping she can work for the CRA this coming summer. If she does indeed land a CRA job again this year, she would prefer to work in one of the agency’s other departments.

As for a long-term goal, once she completes all of her education, she’s hoping to secure an executive director position with an Indigenous non-profit organization.