By Katie Willis
By the time she was 23, Melissa Foley had received her pilot’s licence, trained as an infantry soldier with the Canadian Reserve Force and become the sole female journeyman welder in her class and workplace. Few things intimidated her — except maybe returning to school to change careers.
Connecting the Dots
- The Cause: Donors Margrit and Udo Kaul want to support Indigenous students
- The Gift: Bursary for Indigenous students with financial need
- The Impact: Student gives it forward — inspiring young people to explore careers in trades or whatever their dream
“Going to university is one of the scarier things I’ve done,” she says.
Now 27, Foley was jolted onto a path to change her life when her younger brother died unexpectedly four years ago.
She quit her job as a welder and thought about what should come next. She wanted to serve a bigger purpose — perhaps supporting Indigenous youth, perhaps helping other women succeed in male-dominated trades.
Or, perhaps, a little of both.
The idea of teaching appealed to her, as she could draw on her strength, determination and experiences as a Métis woman to be a role model for women and young people. “It’s amazing for students to see women in trades,” she says. “That’s something I never had.”
But first, she would need to draw on that strength and determination to return to university.
She enrolled at the University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus in Camrose, about 100 kilometres southeast of Edmonton, and began her education degree, specializing in career and technology studies. She transferred to UAlberta’s North Campus a year later to complete her degree.
Augustana exceeded her expectations with its commitment to — and support of — its students. “My professors saw me as an individual,” she says. “They acknowledged that I had a life outside of school.”
Foley found particular encouragement in Augustana’s Aboriginal Students’ Office. “There was always someone there to sit down with and figure things out,” she says. “It’s what I hoped university would be like.”
Two weeks into her first semester at Augustana, Foley’s partner lost his job. With a mortgage to pay, she considered returning to welding full time. “I was in limbo, wondering if I’d be able to afford to stay in school.”
Then she found out she had been awarded the Kaul Aboriginal Student Bursary, established by Udo, ’61 BSc(MechEng), and Margrit Kaul.
The Kauls have long been supporters of humanitarian aid organizations around the world. But the couple realized there are communities closer to home that they have the power to help — in particular, Indigenous students.
When the Kauls met Foley, the first recipient of the bursary, they were delighted with her passion and how it embodies the spirit of the award. “Melissa’s empathy for the community and for the students she will teach is really remarkable,” Udo says.
Thanks to the Kauls, Foley will realize her dream of becoming a positive role model. When she starts teaching next fall, Foley hopes to encourage more girls to check out the welding shop. She also wants to work with students who have special needs and help Indigenous students reach their goals.
“I want to engage students, relate to them, see what makes them tick,” she says. “I want to get them working on something they’re proud of. I want them to say, ‘I did this.’”
For more changing lives weeks stories, visit: uab.ca/thanks.