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OISE degree opens doors for alumna to help aboriginal communities


By Fred Michah Rynor

December 4, 2012

OISE alumna Tracey KingOISE and U of T are both known for going above and beyond when it comes to employee advancement and Tracey King is one of hundreds who jumped at the chance to evolve into a whole new world of service.

Tracey King or Essinhs Kwe which in the Anishnawbe translation means Little Shell Woman is Pottawatomi and Ojibway and belongs to the Otter Clan. She is also a band member of Wasauksing First Nation, Ontario.

Originally an Academic and Financial Aid Counsellor at First Nations House and seconded as Registrar of the Transitional Year Programme at U of T, King noticed an ad a few years ago stating that U of T was looking for staff members who would be interested in taking an OISE M.Ed. program in Higher Education with an emphasis on Leadership in the Department of Theory and Policy Studies (recently renamed the Department of Leadership, Higher and Adult Education).

King jumped at the chance, especially since it offered a compressed format which wouldn't compete with her day-to-day responsibilities on campus. The course also fit in perfectly with her home life as a single parent.

"I took the ten courses option in 2007 and completed them all three years later," King says. "It was an amazing opportunity for me to learn about university and college administration and the various aspects of student experience, recurring academic and student challenges and contemporary issues in post-secondary education."

What made things especially positive for King was the fact that her professors were "not only excellent but incredibly interesting as well," she recalls. "My courses with Dan Lang and Katherine Janzen were particularly wonderful and I keep in touch with them to this day."

King says her degree has opened many doors as well as lifting her confidence level to embark on new careers. Today, she is the Aboriginal Human Resources Consultant in the Office of Aboriginal Initiatives for Ryerson University after a stint with Ontario's Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs as a Senior Advisor, Social Education Unit. She's also an instructor of five full credit courses for the Bachelor of Aboriginal Adult Education program for Brock University which is taught at the Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre.

"This diversity in my work is the direct result of my OISE degree," states King. "I really enjoy working in both education and Aboriginal issues and it was my Masters degree which allowed me to apply for these positions. Today, I work on recruiting and hiring Aboriginal staff or, as I have named it, Aboriginal Intellectual Capital. I'm also developing a Career Paths program for First Nations, Métis and Inuit students in both the public, private and social sectors and I've designed and researched an Aboriginal hiring guide which will be used by Ryerson and available soon online for all interested employers. I've worked with a diversity of these peoples who possess a great many leadership and lived experiences and I want to reach out and hire them; for example, the two-spirited (Aboriginal LGBTQ) community."

King also credits her colleagues and friends at OISE's SAGE initiative (Supporting Aboriginal Graduate Enhancement) where First Nations students, staff and faculty met for symposiums (often on First Nations issues) as well as joining forces to assist each other both academically and professionally.

"My OISE degree made it possible for me to volunteer this past year as the Vice-President, Internal, for the Aboriginal Professional Association of Canada (APAC)," she adds.

"I felt so alienated when I graduated from high school and became a university student," King recalls. "My first experience at another university was quite negative, partly because there were no Aboriginal student services or events for the few students like me. It was at OISE where I felt that I'd arrived at the right place."

In fact, King's very first term paper. 'Fostering Aboriginal Leadership: Increasing Enrollment and Completion Rates In Canadian Post-Secondary Institutions', ended up being published in the College Quarterly Journal in 2008 and this article is still being referred to throughout North America.

Her next goal? To get her PhD in education and continue teaching.