Recognizing strength, commitment and achievement
At 19, Laura McNab-Coombs was holding down a part-time job and studying at a local CUT college. Her ambitions, however, were more uncommon.
The young Métis woman planned to become a physician, perhaps a general practitioner, or an emergency room doctor, and she would work in remote Indigenous communities. “But I was young,” remembers the now 27-year-old, “and I was in an unhealthy relationship.” She dropped out of school.
After about six months – stronger and ready to get back to class – she registered for the science program at Selkirk College in British Columbia. But before classes started, she found out she was pregnant.
What followed was a year at home, preparing for the arrival of baby Ava, and then adjusting to life as a single parent. Laura’s mother and sister helped, but still, “It was a challenging time,” she says. When her daughter was six months old, Laura knew it was time to get back to school. “When you’re a parent, let alone a single parent, it’s all on you,” she says. “And I want my daughter to have a quality life.”
Helping Canadians achieve a better quality of life through education is what the Canada Post Aboriginal Education Incentive Awards are all about.
Launched in 2004, the awards are available to students of Aboriginal heritage who have returned to post-secondary studies after an absence of at least a year. The awards are $1,000 each, and every year Canada Post gives out 20 to 25 of them. Laura was a winner in 2017.
Laura found her way back to Selkirk College, and the second time around, she excelled. Her grades earned her acceptance to the Health Sciences program at the University of Northern British Columbia starting this fall. This summer, she’ll write the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Students can be accepted to medical school before completing their undergraduate degrees; it’s a long shot, but Laura will apply to medical schools in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario. Writing the MCAT before graduating is also good practice: Many students have to write it more than once to pass.
Laura’s teenaged ambitions are within reach again, but getting this far wasn’t easy.
When Laura first went back to school, all she could manage was a part-time course load. Besides the responsibility of parenting, Laura’s father was dying of cancer and she was overwhelmed. She switched from sciences to general arts, which was less demanding academically. “I thought maybe I would go into psychology or social work,” she explains. “But I wasn’t super in love with it. I realized it would be taking the easy way out, and I genuinely wanted to go into medicine.” She switched back to sciences.
Laura has been a full-time student for the past two years. She still holds down a part-time job, but it’s her volunteer work that truly moves her.
When the shelter in her neighborhood advertised for crisis line volunteers, Laura applied to the training program and was accepted. For the past year, she’s been operating the crisis line in Robson, B.C., where she lives.
“I struggled with mental health issues in the past and I used the crisis line many years ago,” she says. “When you’re alone, or having a bad panic attack, or feeling terrified, you need support. From being that damaged person, I became a parent and had this little human I had to be responsible for. I did a lot of healing.”
Laura also created the SpiritFit Nutrition Wellness Incentive Program. It’s a workshop focused on the fundamentals of nutrition, including weight loss and blood sugar management. Last year, 45 people attended the first workshop, which Laura hosted at Westbank First Nation in Kelowna, B.C. She’s received non-profit status for the endeavour and is planning the next event.
She’s unwavering in her commitment to work, family and community service – all while paying for tuition, preparing to move to a new city this fall, and raising her six-year-old daughter. “Psychologically it’s exhausting to juggle everything,” says Lara. “But knowing I have people who believe in me and my goals enough to invest in me gives me the extra push to get through whatever tasks or challenges I’m facing.”
We are accepting applications for the 2018 Canada Post Aboriginal Education Incentive Awards between May 1 and August 31, 2018.
For details on the application requirements and answers to frequently asked questions about the process, go here.
Send your application to CanadaPost@GoToApply.ca.
Read the complete list of past award recipients here.