Community Issues

7th Floor Media helps Aboriginal students achieve academic success

September 01, 2012

By Amy Robertson

Klahanie R. Rorick, of the Tahltan Nation of the Tses’ Kiya Clan from Dease Lake, B.C., has several goals: one is to help other Aboriginal students be as academically and professionally successful as she is.

So when 7th Floor Media, part of SFU Lifelong Learning, approached her about contributing to a website that would help Aboriginal students succeed in their post-secondary studies, she said yes.

7th Floor Media developed the website, called Finding Your Gifts, alongside Lifelong Learning’s Community Education Program with support from the Inukshuk Fund.

Klahanie R. Rorick on Burnaby Mountain. Photo by Greg Ehlers.

Website offers encouragement and resources

In addition to relevant links and resources that offer students strategies for success and maintaining a balanced lifestyle, the site features a collection of video testimonials by Aboriginal students, graduates, and Elders who have been affiliated with SFU, UBC, BCIT, and the Native Education College. They offer viewers advice and encouragement about planning their educational journeys, finding support, and nurturing the spirit of learning in order to excel.

Rorick’s voice is only one among many. One testimonial from Angela Semple, a board member of SFU’s First Nations Student Association, encourages students to begin by simply applying.

“Send the letter and see where it takes you. You have nothing to lose, really,” she says.

Gary George, SFU’s indigenous student life coordinator, talks about the importance of balance in a student’s life. “Because studying is so top-heavy, you’re using your mind a lot,” he says. “You have to balance it out with physical things.”

A place for everyone

Rorick begins one of her videos by exclaiming, “There were points where I did look at the hill and go, ‘Oh my God, this is not a mole hill—this is an enormous task!’” Then she laughs.

“Everybody has an inner path inside of them, and I strongly believe that everybody has somewhere that they need to be,” she continues.

“For me, that was getting out of the situation I was in. I didn’t want to be a secretary all my life. I didn’t want to be a high school dropout. I didn’t want to be a failure. I didn’t want to starve anymore. I wanted an actual place that had more than one bedroom. So I think that for me it was the belief in myself that there is somewhere that I need to be.”

“After that, all the other little things, all the nagging doubts, all the little voices in your head saying, ‘Oh my God, what are you doing?’ they kind of just fell away—because I just knew right here,” she says, pointing to her heart, “there is somewhere I need to be. I have to go somewhere and this is how I’m going to get there. So once you’ve figured out what all the steps are, you just follow the steps.”

Lifelong Learning facilitates balance

Rorick’s steps led her to study at a few different post-secondary institutions in B.C. She found the best fit at SFU Continuing Studies (part of SFU Lifelong Learning), where she completed courses at her own pace. In the last three years, she’s finished the Certificate in Business Communication and Professional Writing, as well as the Certificate in Management.

The course schedule allowed her to integrate classes effectively into her life, which was vital. Rorick explains that Aboriginal students can’t focus exclusively on school—they need to make it fit with their family and community responsibilities.

“When you’re Aboriginal, you’re expected to do community work,” she says. “It’s not something you can ignore. If an Elder asks you, you say yes. You have to make time.”

Rorick’s work and vision have helped her on her journey to where she needs to be. Today, she works as an administrative assistant in SFU’s Office for Aboriginal Peoples. She loves what she does—so much so that she hopes to help lead the department one day.

 “I have a plan,” she says.