Category: Grad student stories

Vanier Scholarship Candidate | Jessica Madiratta

This week we are shining light on Jessica Madiratta, currently in her second year of a Doctor of Philosophy in Education program with the University of Regina. Jessica recently received the good news that she has been selected as a University of Regina candidate for the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships–Doctoral Awards 2021-2022 competition. She will find out in spring if she has been successful in the national competition. For her dissertation, Jessica’s proposed research is a critical participatory action research project which she hopes will improve teaching practices through professional development in culturally responsive pedagogy. “This project challenges educators to build deeper relationships with their students, to bring in authentic learning experiences for students, and to explore social issues happening around student lives,” says Jessica.
Living up to her maiden name “Wesaquate,” which means “sharp as a whistle,” Jessica’s been a non-stop student on campus since 2006, earning her BEd from SUNTEP Regina in 2010, her MEd (C&I) in the Faculty of Education in 2015, followed by a BA in Indigenous Studies from FNUC in 2019. Jessica’s been working as a teacher with Regina Public Schools since 2010. Beginning in 2018, she took on the role of Indigenous Advocate Teacher at Kitchener Community School in Regina.
Jessica’s fondest memories come from her favourite MEd course, Culturally Relevant Pedagogy, which she took with Dr. Angelina Weenie (FNUC): “This class showed me the importance of decolonizing and indigenizing my classroom practices and shared the power of culturally relevant and responsive pedagogies. It had a huge influence on my PhD research topic. Someone should take this class if they are looking for ways to engage their diverse student population,” she says.
In Dr. Weenie’s class, Jessica had the opportunity to attend culture camp: “It was completely dedicated to Indigenous ways of knowing, doing, and being. I had the chance to learn from many elders, participate in a sweat, and to be on the land,” says Jessica.
Jessica, who grew up in Regina, and has roots with Piapot First Nation, considers the most significant aspect about earning her degree from the Faculty of Education, “is the opportunity to learn in my traditional territory with learnings connected to the Regina area.”
As advice to students, Jessica says, “Connect with other students. This gives you the opportunity to ask questions and learn from the experiences of those that have already started their schooling journey.”

Alumni Spotlight | Claudia Castellanos

It’s a pleasure to shine our spotlight on alumna Claudia Castellanos (MEd’14). Claudia is the founder and CEO of Connected World Translation (CWT), an award winning company of translators and interpreters based in Saskatchewan.

“CWT is the only translation agency operated in Saskatchewan that actively offers 45 languages including Cree and lnuktitut,” says Claudia.

When Claudia looks back to her studies with the Faculty of Education, she says what was most memorable for her was “unlearning the concepts I had when I started my studies.”

During her M.Ed. studies, Claudia’s favourite professors were Dr. and Dr. . “Dr. Carol Schick was my favourite professor because she challenged our thoughts and beliefs in order for us to question and confront the status quo. She was always fearless to teach us the truth about systemic issues that are certainly part of our everyday life. Her robust knowledge about anti-oppressive education was inspiring!! Dr. Andrea Sterzuk was one my favourite professors because she pushed us to reach our maximum potential. Her knowledge regarding applied linguistics is incredible and I felt honoured to be her student.”

Claudia says that what was most important about earning her M.Ed. in curriculum and instruction from the Faculty of Education was “to have had the opportunity to learn from a faculty whose passion for social change is relentless. Teaching us to view the world in the eyes of the oppressed is something that makes one challenge the status quo. THANK YOU!!”

Inaugural fall 2021 recipients of the Associate Dean’s Graduate Student Thesis Award

Dr. Titi Olayele
Dr. Katia Hildebrandt

Congratulations to the inaugural fall 2021 convocation recipients of the #UREdu Associate Dean’s Graduate Student Thesis Award: Dr. Titi Olayele (BIPOC) and Dr. Katia Hildebrandt (the Faculty of Education nominee for the President’s Distinguished Graduate Student Award).

The Faculty of Education Associate Dean’s Graduate Student Thesis Award was established to recognize the outstanding academic performance of thesis-based graduate students (Master’s and PhD) in Education. Each recipient is a student in a graduate program in the Faculty of Education who has exemplified academic excellence and research ability, demonstrated leadership ability and/or university/community involvement, and whose thesis was deemed meritorious by the Examining Committee.
One award (of $2000) will go to an applicant who has self-identified as a Black, Indigenous, or a person of colour (BIPOC).
The second award (of $2000) will go to the Faculty of Education nominee for the Governor General’s Academic Gold Medal (Spring) or the President’s Distinguished Graduate Student Award (Fall).
There are four awards annually, each valued at $2,000, divided between two convocations:
*Two awards in Spring (from the list of eligible candidates for the Governor General’s Academic Gold Medal) and
*Two awards in Fall (from the list of eligible candidates for the President’s Distinguished Graduate Student Award)

View Dr. Olayele’s 3-minute thesis presentation

Inaugural recipients of the Associate Dean’s Graduate Student Thesis Award

Congratulations to the 2021 inaugural recipients of the #UREdu Associate Dean’s Graduate Student Thesis Award: Dr. Needal Ghadi (the Faculty of Education’s nominee for the Governor General’s Academic Gold Medal) and Dr. Rubina Khanam (BIPOC).

The Faculty of Education Associate Dean’s Graduate Student Thesis Award was established to recognize the outstanding academic performance of thesis-based graduate students (Masters and PhD) in Education. Each recipient is a student in a graduate program in the Faculty of Education who has exemplified academic excellence and research ability, demonstrated leadership ability and/or university/community involvement, and whose thesis was deemed meritorious by the Examining Committee.

One award (of $2000) will go to an applicant who has self-identified as a Black, Indigenous, or person of colour (BIPOC).

The second award (of $2000) will go to the Faculty of Education nominee for the Governor General’s Academic Gold Medal (Spring) or the President’s Distinguished Graduate Student Award (Fall).

FGSR Indigenous Entrance Awards Faculty of Education recipients

Congratulations to the 2021-2022 Faculty of Education recipients of the FGSR Indigenous Entrance Awards: Heather Carter (PHD), Dennis Daniels (MILED), Andrea Custer (MILED), Geneise Petford (MED), and Danielle Dietrich (MED)

The FGSR Indigenous Entrance Awards are designed to support newly admitted Indigenous graduate students at the University of Regina. Eligible students are nominated by each faculty on the basis of academic standing and leadership. Recipients are awarded a one-year, non-renewable scholarship that covers the cost of tuition and associated fees for the first year (3 semesters) of study.

Teacher-Researcher Profile

An interview with Dr. Brandon Needham, Principal of Melville Comprehensive School (MCS) and 2020 CBC Future 40 Winner, who successfully defended his dissertation, “Critical Action Research: How One School Community Lives out the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action,” on February 16, 2021. Co-supervisors were Dr. Twyla Salm and Dr. Jennifer Tupper. Committee members were Dr. Michael Cappello, Dr. Anna-Leah King, and Dr. Amber Fletcher. External examiner was Dr. Nicholas Ng-A-Fook (University of Ottawa).

Why did you choose to do your graduate degree at the Faculty of Education, University of Regina?

I completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in history, Bachelor of Education – major in physical education and minor in history, and a Master’s degree in curriculum studies from the University of Saskatchewan (U of S). I chose the University of Regina (U of R) for my doctoral work based on the reputation of the school, specifically, the notable research being conducted in the area of treaty and Indigenous education. My supervisor, and former U of R Dean of Education, Dr. Jennifer Tupper’s seminal work in treaty education became the basis to explore areas of reconciliation education.

The University of Regina was also one of the only doctoral programs not requiring a one-year residency for doctoral students, which allowed me to study and continue my job as an in-school administrator. This was very important for me, as I was not able to take an education leave from my school division to pursue a doctorate. The flexibility in the graduate programs at the U of R makes academia more accessible to those educators who still want to remain connected to a K-12 context and for that I was grateful.

What were the circumstances that led you to your research topic for your dissertation?

Having enrolled in the winter term of 2015, just as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report and the subsequent release of the Calls to Action occurred, this topic seemed timely. Prior to choosing this topic, I had conducted a research project with Dr. Michael Cottrell from the U of S on the implementation of treaty education through treaty catalyst teachers. My doctoral work was an evolution of this earlier work, which sought to investigate the challenges and opportunities in teaching students about the Indian Residential School (IRS) project.

What need were you identifying?

In my time as a classroom teacher and an in-school administrator, I have identified hesitancy from students and staff to engage fully in the teaching and learning of treaty education, and other Indigenous topics found in the curriculum. This was initially the case for me, too, as I began my teaching career. Having grown up in a town void of experiences with Indigenous peoples, I had to (un)learn many of the things I had come to know about Indigenous peoples. Through my various educational experiences, I gained a more nuanced understanding of myself as a White settler and the privilege that accompanies that position. Wanting to create meaningful change in my school community towards the goals of the TRC, this project offered the opportunity to invite others to consider their privileged positions. Much of the research conducted to this point had been with teacher-candidates; I felt that conducting the research project in my school may serve to help clarify the complexities of reconciliatory work in K-12 contexts.

Briefly outline your research question and findings.

The study was informed by the following research question: “What actions can a school community take to engage in the TRC Calls to Action to become a site where truth and reconciliation become possible?”

The findings of the study have been encapsulated in the following way: By living out the Calls to Action in our school community we learned to:

Begin with ourselves

  • Locate oneself in the context of settler-colonialism by confronting the various ways we have and continue to be shaped by it.
  • Understand the context of where the work is happening, seeking to understand the community we wish to transform.
  • Build capacity in ourselves so as to engage respectfully in difficult conversations we encountered on our journey of reconciliation.
  • Practice critical reflection and understand that the journey toward reconciliation is on-going and evolves with time.

Walk alongside Indigenous peoples on this journey

  • Bear witness to truth-telling (survivor stories and other Indigenous counter-stories).
  • Build and foster respectful relationships with Indigenous community members.
  • Create a support network (Indigenous organizations, community groups, academic institutions) to assist in the journey.

Engage in disruptive work

  • Work collectively and collaboratively to transform the teaching and learning of the residential school project, treaty education, Indigenous sovereignty, and ongoing colonial violence.
  • Encourage and influence those around us to include and infuse Indigenous perspectives, values, and cultural understanding into daily practice.
  • Transform the spaces and places in the school to reflect the historical significance of Indigenous peoples.
    Recognize the potential of schools and individuals in schools to be vehicles for reconciliatory actions.

What was memorable, a highlight about doing this research?

A highlight of doing this research project was having been fortunate enough to share this journey with the colleagues who participated in the study. Our group met several times over the course of the school year in the hope to live out the TRC Calls to Action in our school, which led to many meaningful conversations about the influence we have as teachers to make reconciliation more than aspirational.

What kinds of feedback have you received from others?

I have received very positive feedback from others. I have had an opportunity to share my findings through virtual conferences, with only positive comments coming from those sessions.

Were there any unexpected moments of grace coming out of your studies during a pandemic?

I would say an unexpected moment of grace that came out of this pandemic was shown by my supervisor, Dr. Tupper. She was extremely supportive and understanding of the challenges I faced as a graduate student, principal, and father of four children.

What are your hopes for how your work is taken up by others?

My hope is that this work is taken up in ways that continue to invite others to consider their positionality in our settler-colonial system and how they might use their privilege to explore the shared history between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. More work is needed in how students take up and experience reconciliation education and it is my hope that this project can illuminate some of those possibilities.

While a student, Brandon Needham was named one of CBC’s 2020 Future Forty winners. Read the interview by clicking on the image







University of Regina 3MT® Competition winner

Congratulations to MEd student Whitney Blaisdell on winning the University of Regina 3MT® competition. Along with the recognition, Blaisdell takes home $1500 and she will represent the U of R in the Western Regional 3MT® competition.

The three-minute thesis competition proved to be a “great challenge,” says Blaisdell: “I was surprised at how challenging it was to attempt to describe the importance and current state of play, the research methods I used, the emergent theory, and the implications of the research in three minutes!”

Blaisdell says she benefitted from other aspects of participating in the competition, including the “opportunity not only to share this research on play in an accessible format but also to listen to other students share their fascinating and important research. The finalists had the opportunity to attend a workshop on presenting with Dr. Kathryn Ricketts that was so helpful.”

Overall, Blaisdell says that she has had, “a wonderful experience studying here at the University of Regina in the Faculty of Education with the supervision of Dr. Marc Spooner and the support of Dr. Valerie Triggs and Dr. Patrick Lewis as members of my committee.”

As for the future, along with supporting the offshoots of her current research and doing more research around play, Blaisdell plans to follow her own advice–to play: “I look forward to taking a small break to play and enjoy some warm weather with my family.”

The University of Regina Graduate Student Association (URGSA) described the competition as follows:

The Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) is an internationally recognized competition for thesis-based graduate students in which participants present their scholarly and creative activity and its wider impact in 3 minutes or less. The challenge is to present complex research in an accessible and compelling way with the assistance of only one static slide. Created in 2008 by Dr. Alan Lawson at the University of Queensland, Australia, the 3MT® competition celebrates exciting and innovative graduate student research while promoting communication, public speaking, and storytelling skills. The competition offers an exciting and thought-provoking opportunity for graduate students, pushing them to consolidate their ideas and crystalize their research discoveries. Presenting in a 3MT® competition increases the capacity of graduate students to effectively explain their scholarly and creative activity in a clear and concise manner, and in a language appropriate to a general audience.

URGSA has posted a video of the competition to YouTube:

Grad student discusses talking to students about climate change on CBC’s What on Earth

Aysha Yaqoob (B.Ed. 2018) founded Pencils of Hope while a student. Photo credit: Shuana Niessen

In today’s email communication from the U of R President Dr. Thomas Chase, faculty and staff were made aware that,

“Alumna and current #UofR Education grad student Aysha Yaqoob (BEd’18) is talking to young people about climate change.

Laura Lynch of CBC’s ‘What on Earth’ January 10 broadcast, a segment on talking with children about climate change, features award-winning U of R alumna and current MEd graduate student Aysha Yaqoob, who teaches at Balfour Collegiate in Regina.”

This interview is summarized in the what follows.

Lynch asks, “Why teach climate change in an English class,” Yaqoob outlines how her teaching practices were formed by her own experiences as a student, and what stuck with her were the things she could relate to.  So when she thinks about making learning relatable, she thinks about “bringing in real-life situations: what’s going on around them, [and] how they can contribute to it.” Yaqoob says, “I’ve learned that climate change is something young people really care about.”

Lynch then asks Yaqoob how teaching about climate change in a high-school English class “dovetail[s] with lessons about Shakespeare and grammar.” Yaqoob responds that the Saskatchewan English curriculum is thematic so quite open ended. The theme she builds around is Equity and Ethics, which ties into Shakespeare’s Macbeth and also climate change and climate crisis.  Yaqoob begins by asking students where they are at and what they already know about this topic. Yaqoob says, “Over the years, I have found that that’s usually the best way that we can start our learning and move forward.”

Students often think they know a lot about a topic but after their conversations, they realize “they only understand the tip of the iceberg,” says Yaqoob. Students are generally familiar with concepts such as reduce, reuse, recycle, and plastic straws, but with “some of the more complex conversations such as greenhouse gases, when we bring those in, a lot of kids are shocked,” Yaqoob says. “We are constantly debunking information or misinformation that they find online. That’s actually part of the course that I teach earlier on, that critical thinking piece, so by the end of it, they get pretty good at cross referencing, fact checking…so it’s a pretty cool experience that we do together.”

In her first year of teaching, Yaqoob realized that she needed to approach the topic differently so the students can feel empowered and inspired rather than panicked. After conversations with students, she and her students started to look at people who are making change, such as youth activists. Students wrote to people who were making decisions, such as the Mayor of Regina, the Provincial Government and the Prime Minister Trudeau.  Students did receive responses, and these contributed to a feeling of empowerment and advocacy.

Go to to hear the 7-minute exchange. Select the 10 January segment of “What on Earth” and forward to about the 12’15” mark.

Living in Colour: Blackness and Racial Justice and Equity in the Education Institution

Obianuju Juliet Bushi, PhD student, sessional lecturer, student advisor and newly elected Regina Catholic School Board trustee

The current coronavirus pandemic has created economic, social, educational, and political uncertainties in North America and worldwide. This pandemic has tested our systems and has changed the way we perform our daily living. Teaching and learning have taken a new form and classes have been restructured and redesigned to keep students and teachers safe and to minimize the spread of this deadly virus. In addition to the pandemic, education institutions have to respond to concerns and provide clear answers to tough questions from students, faculty, and non-teaching staff about their safety in school and the impact of COVID-19 on teaching and learning. Schools have also witnessed significant cuts in funding and resources that have affected the ways education resources become available and accessible based on needs, race, and class (Khalifa, 2013).

The issues of power and racial inequalities in schooling contexts have been a topic of discussion since the 1990s by many scholars of colour (see, for example, Derrick Bell, 1993; Gloria Ladson-Billings & Tate, 1995). In response to the inequitable access to education for minoritized students (Indigenous, Black, Latino, Asian, and other People of Colour), many post-secondary institutions have developed frameworks that address “whiteness” and are working to understand education policies and reforms (Khalifa, Dunbar & Douglas, 2013) and their impacts on Indigenous, Black, and People of Colour (IBPOC) students and faculty members. Discrimination and racial inequalities against IBPOC people are invisible to those who are not affected by them because they are endemic, engrained, and normalized in educational institutions and policies.

The unlawful killing of 46-year-old George Floyd on the 25th of May in the United States sparked unrest all over the world with thousands of concerned citizens taking a stance against racial injustice and police brutality against Black people. Many “Black Lives Matter” rallies were held across the country with hundreds and thousands of protesters showing their support and marching in solidarity.

As a Black student in the Faculty of Education, I have received moral and social support from fellow students, my supervisor, and senior administrators. This act of responsibility and support also shows that more needs to be done to address racial injustice and inequalities that IBPOC students and faculty may experience within and outside our Faculty. It also indicates that educational institutions need to move beyond conversations to actions—from liberal multiculturalism to critically relevant practices, from abyssal thinking to critical thinking and post-abyssal thinking (thinking from the realm of the “other” by the “other”) and from a non-racist to anti-racist practice—to address barriers and challenges that continue to impact academic success and personal growth of students and to promote a safe space for IBPOC faculty members to be their authentic selves. So, one may ask, how can an educational institution that embodies whiteness and Eurocentric practices promote blackness and black scholarship?

As many education scholars will agree, education is politics, and so is our curriculum because it is created from a lens that privileges a particular construction of knowledge and the record of knowledge, which more often than not, favours dominant culture. As a graduate student, I have enjoyed classes that allowed me to share my story without having to think and speak like the dominant population. I have also enjoyed classes that were interactive and engaging especially for IBPOC students. More often, our voices are silenced and our knowledge and experiences go unnoticed and undervalued. The Faculty of Education has allowed me to grow as an aspiring critically aware educator and activist and I have cherished the support and resources I have received and continue to receive.

I started my post-graduate studies in curriculum and instruction in the Faculty of Education in 2015, a couple of years after completing my MPA. Since my start date, I have been very fortunate to have been granted a much-needed Leave of Absence (Personal and Maternity) that allowed me to balance my studies and family life. I have also been a Sessional Lecturer at First Nations University for over eight years and a faculty advisor for a couple of years now. I have had the privilege of working with faculty members in the capacity of a graduate teaching assistant (GTA) that allowed me to experience and gain crucial knowledge in the teacher education program. I have also built intellectual relationships with students, faculty, and preservice and in-service teachers and have improved my knowledge of the K-12 system. These experiences have also inspired me to continue my research work in “exploring the perceptions of Black-African students (K-12) school experience and mental wellness in Saskatchewan,” an area I am passionate about. As a recently elected board trustee in the Regina Catholic School Division, I hope to continue to inspire young people to be more involved in their various communities and capacities. I am also very fortunate to be on the Board with dedicated and passionate trustees that understand the importance of putting students first.

By Obianuju Juliet Bushi, PhD student, sessional lecturer, student advisor and newly elected Regina Catholic School Board trustee

Click here to read Obianuju Juliet Bushi’s Opinion piece in CBC News “Sask.’s next government must address barriers Black people face.”

SCPOR Trainee Funding Program recipients

PhD Candidate Natalie Owl is the recipient of a SCPOR Trainee Funding Program award (2019-2020: $10,000 and 2020-2021 $5000) for her patient-oriented research project, “Cultural Continuity and Self-determination: Resolving Sociolinguistic and Historic Trauma Impacts on Nishnaabemwin Revitalization.” Owl is working under the supervision of  Dr. A. Blair Stonechild.

PhD Candidate Obianuju Juliet Bushi is the recipient of a SCPOR Trainee Funding Program award (2019-2021 $4936/year) for her patient-oriented research project, “Understanding Racial Identity Formation, Mental Health, and Well-being of African-Canadian (Black) School Children in Saskatchewan through a Community-Based Summer Program.” Bushi is working under the supervision of Dr. Fatima Pirbhai-Illich.