The Graduate Spotlight features exceptional students who have had unique journeys through Laurentian University. We celebrate these students and their accomplishments!
For Eugenia Eshkawkogan, it hasn’t yet sunk in that she will soon be graduating from Laurentian University with a degree in Indigenous Social Work.
Originally from Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory, she never imagined how her life would unfold during her time at Laurentian. Throughout her six years on campus, she has become a leader and role model for her peers through her work in the Residence Life team, as a leader within the Indigenous Students Circle, and perhaps even more surprising to her, as a co-host of the annual sold-out production of “Airbandz for Cancer”. Now described as an “inspiration” by her peers, her impact on the Laurentian community has been powerful.
“I wouldn’t have thought that I would become so involved in the Laurentian community. I was pretty quiet in high school, and going to university was so scary. I was a shy little rez girl but I took one step at a time. At each step, I was nervous but I kept moving forward. Though I feel like it hasn’t hit me yet, I just finished university and already have a full-time job. Each step has helped me grow into the person I am today.”
Eugenia is now working in her community as the Child and Youth Mental Health and Addictions Worker at Naandwechige Gamig Wikwemikong Health Centre. A role where she is fulfilled by supporting the youth in her community and sharing how she’s been able to live “the good life”, known as Mino Bimaadiziwin a foundational element of Indigenous culture that follows the seven grandfather teachings (Respect, Truth, Love, Honesty, Bravery, Humility, and Wisdom). She supports others to find their balance within the four states of being - physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental - represented by the medicine wheel.
Her path along the way presented many challenges, she originally began her postsecondary education as a Nursing student, and while she had a good experience, it wasn’t where she felt she needed to be. After three years, she decided to switch into the Indigenous Social Work (ISWK) program. That change didn’t come easily, but she looked within herself to find the answer and trusted her instincts.
“In 2018, I started to feel like I needed to make a change. I remember when my mom told me that it doesn’t matter where you are on your path, you’re meant to be where you’re meant to be. In my culture, the Creator puts you where you’re supposed to be, it may not be what you envisioned but right now it’s where you’re supposed to be… and she was right! I followed my unconventional path to find balance.”
Later in 2018, she vividly remembers seeing an email with the subject line “Residence Position” from the Residence Life Coordinator at the time, Kayla Diblee. At first, she was worried that her upcoming role as a Peer Mentor was in jeopardy, but then was stunned to learn that she was actually being asked to fulfill an even more senior role - a Residence Assistant. In that role she would be counted on to support her peers and provide leadership for many students in residence.
“At first it was a little nerve wracking but after getting support from my parents I accepted the role the next day. Although I was scared, and nervous, I knew I had others I could count on as well. I consider my friends in residence to be my family and I’ll always remember them. My Peer Mentor (Vanessa Pethick) had such a big impact on me in my first year. I consider her my big sister and my parents call her an adopted daughter. I faced challenges and opened up to her and she helped me through it, it was so great to feel supported. If I needed to talk to someone, she was always there. I figured I could give back and do that for others now.”
The support and loving environment in Laurentian Residence grew into an even more unexpected role for Eugenia when she agreed to become a co-host of Airbandz alongside fellow student Kayla Babstock. Airbandz for Cancer is a musical production performed live in front of 500 audience members and all eyes were on Eugenia - something she never could have imagined for herself when she first arrived on campus.
“In my fourth year of the program, I was able to begin contributing to research, which was a big step for me. Through a project I was working on, I had the opportunity to host a podcast and speak with health program directors across Canada and learn from their experiences. I was also able to create a resource booklet called Storysharing with Grassroots Groups with Dr. Joey-Lynn Wabie, Michelle Kennedy, and another ISWK student, Gail Grainge.
I could not have imagined I would have these opportunities when I first started out. I’ve been encouraged by professors like Dr. Joey-Lynn Wabie and Arlene Johnson who both motivated me to consider a master’s degree or even a doctorate one day. Growing up, I wanted to be a doctor, so maybe I am on the right path to becoming a different type of Dr.”
When asked what advice she would offer students and her fellow graduates, she was of course humble and wise beyond her years.
“Your journey is not linear. Mine certainly wasn’t. Take the opportunities that come your way and be open minded to meet everyone along the journey. You’re supposed to be where you’re supposed to be. Take things one step at a time. Nothing will be easy, but you’ll get there.”