By Morgan O’Neal
As a new semester begins at colleges and universities across Canada, some students will be will be spending their time reconnecting with friends, chasing down the best weekend parties, and fine tuning their social calendars. Still, most students will recognize that it’s time to get down to business, focusing on classes or their chosen athletic pursuits. Meanwhile, Jennifer Campeau, a proud single mother and Master’s student at the University of Saskatchewan, has plenty of responsibilities to keep her on her toes.
Campeau is one of 17 full-time students participating in the university’s Master of Business Administration program. The demands of completing postgraduate studies can be difficult, time-consuming, and sometimes exhausting. She told The Star Phoenix, “We all face different challenges, but this is pretty intense.” In the short term, Campeau is focused on obtaining her degree, but she hopes to honor her family’s legacy by helping to make life better for the First Nation of Yellow Quill in Saskatchewan (located 200 kilometres east of Saskatoon). Immediate plans include working with Professor. David Natcher as a teaching assistant in the Indigenous People’s Resource Management Program.
Campeau grew up in Saskatoon and other locations with her mother Sarah Desjarlais and five siblings. Like many teenagers, she wasn’t thinking about going to college or pursuing a career. Life started Jennifer down a very different path early on. She dropped out of high school, married at the age of 18, and two years later became the mother of her only child (a daughter named Denaya).
With a family to care for, Campeau decided to make some changes. She put her shoulder to the wheel, asked for assistance when she needed it, and eventually earned her high school diploma. When her marriage failed, she was left a single parent with very little financial support, yet she knew that she needed and wanted the opportunity to build a better life. She told The Star Phoenix that she credits the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technology (SIIT) with steering her in the right direction for achieving success. “They do a really good job there,” she said.
After completing two years of business management training at SIIT, she transferred her studies to the University of Lethbridge where she earned a Bachelor of Management. Higher education, however, does not come cheaply. To finance her studies, Campeau applied for bursaries and scholarships and received tens of thousands of dollars from the National Aboriginal Achievement and Business Foundation, the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority, Scotiabank, and Syncrude.
As she struggled to achieve her academic goals, Campeau drew inspiration from the strength of women around her, including her mother Sarah (a social worker for the Meadow Lake Tribal Council) and Margaret Roper (a single mother who obtained her university degree in social work). “I can’t compare myself to them,” she told The Star Phoenix, “I only have one [child]. I saw the struggles my mom went through.”
When she finishes the business program (in about a year), Jennifer hopes to work on economic development projects for Saskatchewan First Nations, which could include her home First Nation of Yellow Quill. She told The Star Phoenix, “I am very proud to be from Yellow Quill. They have a lot of cultural knowledge there.” As far as the educational future of her daughter Denaya (now age 15), Campeau said the teenager “has no choice in the matter, ha ha. She’s going to get her Ph.D.”