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Okanagan College Aboriginal students earn Irving K. Barber awards
Okanagan College Media Release

Eight Okanagan College Aboriginal students are among 265 in the province who have been selected as recipients of the BCPenny O'Leary Jan 2014 Aboriginal Student Awards, an annual award funded through the generosity of the Irving K. Barber British Columbia Scholarship Society. 

“The additional money will make a big difference for me,” said Penny O’Leary, a Practical Nursing student at the Kelowna campus. “Now I can afford school supplies, bus passes to get to school on time, and the extra books that instructors recommend to help with my studies.

“Being awarded the scholarship really inspires me to keep going. It’s like a pat on the back ─ some recognition that I’ve made it this far. It’s definitely going to help me get where I plan to go.”

The Scholarship Society awards funds each year through a competitive process to support the post-secondary education goals of B.C.’s Aboriginal students. Established in 2008, the scholarships facilitate access and improve achievement by reducing financial barriers. In 2013, the Society disbursed $813,000 to Aboriginal students in B.C. who received awards that ranged between $1,000 and $5,000 to help in securing skills and training.

“Financing education is a huge concern for our Aboriginal students,” said James Coble, Okanagan College’s Aboriginal Access and Services Coordinator. “The reality is that not all of them are able to access needed funds through their bands. And even when bands do provide funding, the money doesn’t cover everything.

“Adequate funding is a critical component of student success,” said Coble. “Many Aboriginal students face multiple barriers. They often need additional help with emergency needs like transportation and child care, along with the everyday essentials such as food and rent.”

The benefits of post-secondary education for First Nations people, Inuit and Métis were recently confirmed by the Statistics Canada 2012 Aboriginal Peoples Survey that reported off-reserve First Nations school completers are significantly more likely to be employed than non-completers (72 per cent versus 47 per cent), with a median employment income range that is $10,000 higher.

According to the survey, 65 per cent of First Nations people plan to further their education; however, they face multiple obstacles to achieving their goals, including financial concerns, lack of confidence, and childcare and family responsibilities.

Since its formation in 2004, the Irving K. Barber British Columbia Scholarship Society has awarded over $5 million to students through its various scholarship and award programs. In addition to support for Aboriginal students, funds are made available for students in study abroad programs, and to B.C. college students transferring to universities to complete their studies.

The following Okanagan College students received scholarships and attended the campuses listed below:

Britney Jennison – Kelowna
Penny O’Leary – Kelowna
Robin Arnouse – Kelowna
Naomi Baker – Kelowna
Dallas Keller – Penticton
Tyler Walkden – Salmon Arm
Cassandra Gunn – Salmon Arm
Jessica Hamilton – Vernon