Indigenous women gain skills, build community

Two cohorts of project management students show dedication, resiliency in rigorous program

Ruth Myles | April 22, 2022

A woman working on a laptop from her home office.

Virtual weekly meetings supported the success of Indigenous women taking Mount Royal University’s Project Management Certificate program through one of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project’s education and training initiatives.

A project management program for Indigenous women in Western Canada is building on the success of its first offering as a second group of learners gain skills and knowledge for personal and professional growth.

Jordann Hazelwood, a member of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc in Kamloops B.C., was one of 24 students in the first cohort, which started in October 2020 through the Faculty of Continuing Education at Mount Royal University. Hazelwood, who has a Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of the Fraser Valley, says she has put her learning into action for her community and herself.

“With the tools and skills I’ve gained, I’m able to enhance the work that I do at the Nation level, which is about creating space for Indigenous people in industry,” says Hazelwood, the employment and training co-ordinator for the Stk’emlupsemc te Secwepemc Nation (SSN). “The Project Management Professional (PMP)® designation is very valuable and not easy to obtain. The knowledge is very applicable across the board in almost any work environment.”

The program is supported by Trans Mountain and is offered in communities along the pipeline corridor as part of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project’s education and training initiatives. The Project Management Extension Certificate program aligns with the Trans Mountain Expansion Project’s goal to build sustainable and respectful relationships with Indigenous communities. Many of the participants are affiliated with the Trans Mountain Expansion Project, either through contractors or the communities. Additionally, participants can work with a mentor to support their career development and networking circles, says Marianne Fox, lead, employment and training, Trans Mountain.

“We have seen resilience, strength and friendships emerge through the course and some perfect scores and creativity on assignments or tests,” Fox says. “We are also grateful to the women on our team who are mentoring the participants, as well as the instructors and facilitators at Mount Royal University who have offered ongoing support to each participant.”

Learning framework supports student success

The knowledge gained in Mount Royal’s Project Management Extension Certificate can be applied in a range of fields, from energy to IT, human resources to small business. Project management involves applying specialized knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to achieve project objectives and meet requirements such as time and budget.

The courses in the Project Management Extension Certificate were delivered online over a year on a custom schedule, which was then complemented by weekly virtual debrief sessions with Mount Royal instructors. These additional sessions, combined with enhanced program support including Trans Mountain mentors, provided a framework to set participants up for success.

“It's a significant commitment to make, especially while trying to balance family life, job demands and whatever curve balls life can throw at you,” says instructor Matt Luik. “I'm so proud of the successful participants from the first cohort because they always demonstrated a positive, resilient approach throughout the program. The second cohort is showing a similar dedication and engagement with the coursework and each other.”


"For me, I am paying tribute to my ancestors and their sacrifices. That made me feel proud."

Jordann Hazelwood


The second cohort, which started in September 2021, includes Teri Clayton from Merritt, B.C. Her family on her mother's side is from Siska First Nation and Lytton First Nation. Clayton, who has a diploma in general studies from Thompson Rivers University, has worked in various departments in First Nation band offices over the course of her career. She wanted to formalize her work experience through the Trans Mountain program.

“I have a lot of experience, but I don’t have project management certification. I’m learning so much in terms of processes, methods and language. Using standard forms and processes to align with others in the project management industry is really beneficial,” Clayton says. “I'll be able to use my new knowledge in future projects with First Nations or other organizations and I'll have the credentials to show that I have higher learning.”

Virtual sessions build community, collaboration

Clayton and Hazelwood say the opportunity to learn alongside a group of Indigenous women was key to them signing on. Although they have diverse career backgrounds — from information technology to environmental monitoring and construction — the women’s shared culture and lived experience created a tight-knit, supportive community.

“It was a very safe learning environment. Historically, the school system has not always been a positive experience for Indigenous Peoples, so that was very important to me,” Hazelwood says. “Education is so important. It’s not something that has always been accessible to our People. For me, I am paying tribute to my ancestors and their sacrifices. That made me feel proud.”

In addition to the hard skills in project management she gained from the program, Hazelwood says she grew as a person as well.

“I have gained confidence from it. I have gained the ability to work through really challenging obstacles. I was renovating a house, planning a wedding, personal things were happening, all with working full time and doing the program and in a pandemic. Reflecting back, I can say that I worked through those challenging pieces and came out on the other side more resilient.”

Luik says he saw personal development occur alongside professional development in other learners as well. The women overcame individual challenges in addition to dealing with shared obstacles such as forest fires, floods, technology challenges and the demands of balancing their professional development with personal responsibilities during the pandemic.

“I saw participants develop a greater sense of confidence in their own abilities, and I know they will continue to benefit from that confidence in all areas of their life,” Luik says. “It was also great to see the innovation and energy they brought to their work. In the first cohort, one of the assignments in the schedule and cost management course requires participants to produce a video to pitch their project plan to a fictional client, and the results were truly amazing.”

The weekly online discussion groups discussed the learnings from the previous week, fostering relationships and understanding. Each of the required courses in the certificate is based on concepts from A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), a widely recognized international standard in the industry, and are taught by working project managers. The rigorous program — which is being revised to align with the new PMBOK® Guide — places demands on learner’s focus and time, says Dimitra Fotopoulos, director, professional and continuing education at Mount Royal University.

“We recognize the hard work these women have dedicated to their professional development. We are proud to support them in gaining skills that they can use in their communities and their careers,” Fotopolous says.

“We congratulate them on continuing and completing their studies during such a challenging time, and also for contributing to a community of continuous learning for their peers.

“I’d also like to thank our staff members Lucia Makowsky and Johanna Franconeri for their work on these offerings. Their dedication — and that of Matt Luik — to supporting these learners in achieving their goals is a wonderful example of the mission of the Faculty of Continuing Education.”

Learn more about project management extension certificates at MRU.