Ever since she was a little girl, Shirley Haynes has wanted to be a teacher, but when she graduated from high school, her financial situation put attending university to pursue her dream out of her reach.
A dozen years later, Haynes finally got a chance to begin her post-secondary education, but she said if she’d known back then what she knows now, she could have begun her studies straight out of high school.
The knowledge Haynes was lacking in her youth was that student loans, scholarships and bursaries can help ease the financial burden of attending college or university. Haynes is currently in the second year of studies at Red River College of Applied Arts, Science and Technology, and is funding her entire post-secondary education with the scholarships she's received.
One of the scholarships Haynes has been chose to receive is an Excellence Award from the Canadian Millennium Scholarship Foundation, given out to students selected based on their community and academic achievements. As an Excellent Award laureate, she will receive a $5,000 bursary, renewable for one additional year.
Some of the scholarships she has received are awarded to people within a specific group. As a teen, she spent four years in foster care, so she has applied for and received scholarships that help former foster children attain a post-secondary education. She is Métis, so she has received scholarships given out to Aboriginal students. But she believes it’s her involvement in the community—both her school community at Red River, and the community she lives in in Winnipeg’s inner city—that has earned her the lion’s share of the scholarships she’s received.
“I apply for every single scholarship I’m eligible for,” she said. She estimates she’s applied for about 20 this year. “And so that helps with my applications too, because I get a lot of practice writing them.”
All the practice seems to be paying off for Haynes, who has been selected to receive five scholarships this year. She gives some of the credit for her success to Red River’s Aboriginal student support centre, where the staff help students with their scholarship and bursary applications.
“Before I got to Red River, that summer, I did them all on my own. And when I was at Red River last year during the school year, the help they gave me just showed me how much better my applications I’d done before I got to school could have been.”
Haynes is enrolled in a joint program with Red River and the University of Winnipeg. The first two years of her studies have seen her in a two-year diploma program in Aboriginal languages. Next year, she will make the move to the university, where she will spend three more years in studies. At the end of it all, she will have a bachelor of arts degree, a bachelor of education degree and a diploma in Aboriginal languages.
One of the greatest challenges Haynes faces as a full-time post-secondary student is striking a balance between her studies and her role as mother to two young children, a challenge she wouldn't have had to deal with if she'd been able to start her studies right out of high school.
Haynes is happy to share her story with others, not because she seeks any attention, but because she hopes others can learn from her experiences and see that, thanks to the large number of scholarships and bursaries that are available, getting a post-secondary education doesn’t have to be an unattainable dream.
“I think the farther that my story gets spread, the more people who are like me—who are Aboriginal, who are women, who have kids, who have no money, who were in foster care—whatever it is ... the farther the story is spread, the more people will see that there’s opportunity and that there’s things that they can access. And if I did it, they can do it. And that’s really exciting to me,” she said.
“I always keep stressing that this isn’t about me and how amazing I am. This is about, holy crow, I had no idea these things existed. And if other people just knew they existed, it’s amazing the opportunities they would get. I would have gone to university when I was 18 if I had known. Maybe someone else will have the opportunity that they didn’t even know existed because the farther the story is spread, the more chance there is that they’ll hear it.”