Creating meaningful relationships

Indigenous Mentorship program launches at MRU

Haley JarmainMount Royal University | Posted: September 19, 2023

From left to right: Sarae Quewezance (mentee), Jolene Fellhauer (mentor), Sarah Imran, director of Career Services, John Fischer, interim associate vice-president, Academic Affairs Office, Office of Indigenization and Decolonization.

From left to right: Sarae Quewezance (mentee), Jolene Fellhauer (mentor), Sarah Imran, director of Career Services, John Fischer, interim associate vice-president, Academic Affairs Office, Office of Indigenization and Decolonization.

Meeting new people and building relationships is a foundational part of the university experience.

A new mentorship program at Mount Royal is hoping to help students connect with industry professionals, however it is slightly different from traditional offerings.

Sarah Imran, director of Career Services at MRU, says they heard feedback regarding creating opportunities specifically tailored to Indigenous students.

In response, and in partnership with the Iniskim Centre, Career Services launched the Indigenous Mentorship program earlier this year.

The program at Mount Royal is unique in many ways. In developing it, Career Services researched recommended practices in the field.

“Even calling it the Indigenous Mentorship program and focusing on and targeting students who specifically self-identify and disclose they are Indigenous people is very unique,” Imran explains.

Not all of the mentors are Indigenous, however Imran notes that they all are connected to Indigenous communities in some way — either through their personal lived experiences or professional roles.

“A mentorship program helps to provide time to students to consider a pathway to a career and provide an advisor who understands what the journey looks like and understands the realities of Indigenous Peoples,” says John Fischer, interim associate vice-president, Academic Affairs Office, Office of Indigenization and Decolonization.

The program takes into account Indigenous practices and was launched with a ceremony and smudge, followed by a meal.

Symbiotic relationships

Through the Indigenous Mentorship program, students are paired with industry professionals who work in or have experience with a related field.

Mentors are a vital connection for students and can offer new perspectives and career advice, allowing students to connect with industry while still immersed in their studies.

“When students connect with a mentor they learn something that they couldn’t have even imagined. There’s that informal human-to-human learning component that happens and then, in a more tangible way, career mentorship is powerful because they can understand the journey of their mentor and learn more about the industry,” Imran says.

Often mentors are able to expose their mentees to professional environments and networking events while also pointing them to the right programs and courses, Imran says.

“And through that the student gains confidence through understanding things better or connecting with different people, events, networks and communities.”

While the students benefit greatly, mentors also stand to gain.

“We know it benefits the student, but we hear time and time again that it is so rewarding for the mentors,” Imran says.

She says not only do mentors feel empowered to be helping students enter their professional careers, they also feel more connected to the younger generation coming into industry from post-secondary.

“They learn from the mentees what courses they are taking and what they are learning, what technologies they are using and what new concepts are emerging.”

According to Imran, many mentors also cite students as a source for learning more about diversity since “students and campuses tend to be more ahead on things like inclusion programs.”

Fischer agrees that the relationship is often mutually beneficial.

“Mentors are seeking ways to actively give back to their community. This need to connect also recognizes that they may not have had this opportunity during their career journey. Students want to learn from someone who has been there and want to start networking in their field of endeavor. Our way is to begin with a positive, strong and respectful relationship.”

'Just do it'

Among the first people to take part in the program are Bachelor of Science — Environmental Sciences recent graduate Sarae Quewezance (mentee) and Jolene Fellhauer (mentor).

Fellhauer, who works for Synergy Land and Environmental, found out about the program through her supervisor and was eager to get involved. She says when she was a student, there wasn’t a program like this in place but she recognizes the positive impact it could have had.

Despite being the mentor, her involvement in the program has come with some learning moments for her, too.

“It’s really taught me how to talk to other people who are in similar fields but who don’t necessarily have the same experiences. They may have different challenges and I can tell them what has worked for me, but they can also tell me what has worked for them so there’s really a back-and-forth learning.

“Just do it,” says Fellhauer when asked what message she has for anyone thinking of taking on a mentorship role. “It’s rewarding to help someone else and encourage them. You get to that fourth and final year before you graduate and you’re not really sure what that next step is, so I think having someone there to say, ‘You did a good job and you’re on the right path,’ is really empowering.”

Sarae Quewezance (mentee) and Jolene Fellhauer (mentor).

From left to right: Jolene Fellhauer (mentor) and Sarae Quewezance (mentee).

Through her own experience and education, Fellhauer knows that there are many stereotypes about Indigenous culture and people, which is why she feels strongly that this specifically tailored program is needed.

“When you start to see more and more Indigenous people succeeding, you can really build on that momentum. Traditionally there are roles where you might not have seen a woman or an Indigenous person, and now you’re seeing both,” she explains, saying that it’s encouraging for the younger generation to see that kind of diversity within the workforce.

Quewezance wanted to connect with another Indigenous woman, ideally someone who comes from the same field, so being paired with Fellhauer was a perfect match.

“In your final year when you are finally leaving school, it is a big change and I know I am anxious. When I talk to my mentor she is very supportive and I know I can reach out to her and talk about anything.”

In addition to being an overall positive influence and sounding board, Fellhauer’s professional guidance and advice is something Quewezance wouldn’t be able to access elsewhere.

“Just having that person to ask questions about what to expect, knowing that there’s someone there for me who is in my field — that is a woman in science — that means a lot to me.”

Quewezance encourages other students to take part in the Indigenous Mentorship program no matter where they are in their academic career, whether it be their first year or last. She says she was just happy to have a mentor in general, but having someone to connect with who is also Indigenous has “meant more to me than I can put into words.

“Being Indigenous, perhaps she understands the things we’ve gone through, you know, being able to relate to one another in that sense,” she explains.

Quewezance says initially she, like many other students, was shy when it came to asking for help and seeking out resources. However, she stresses the additional support she felt through her mentor was a big motivation for her to keep pushing through and offered her some clarity as to what life after graduation could look like.

The pair also bonded over something else; motherhood.

“She’s a mom and I am a mom. That’s something that was really important to me, too. She did it and has done this for almost 20 years now and she had a child and everything worked out for her, and so that also helped me, to see and hear how she did it,” Quewezance says, and is looking forward to returning the favour.

“I hope to be a mentor one day too.”

MRU’s Indigenous Mentorship program is recruiting mentors for the fall. 

Additionally, the program is also looking for corporate sponsors. If you are interested in the program and getting involved, contact Career Services.