Shelly Niemi and Faran Rashid will be the 2017 valedictorians at the University of Northern British Columbia.
They will each give a brief speech during the Prince George convocation celebrations on May 26 at the Charles Jago Northern Sport Centre. Their presentations are intended to signify a moment of celebration and respect to all those who have made the journey through classes, papers, projects and exams to the culmination of all that hard work, their degree.
Niemi is graduating with her Master’s Degree in Education in Multidisciplinary Leadership. It’s the second degree she’s earned at UNBC, having obtained her Bachelor of Arts in First Nations Studies in 2012.
An Indigenous student who celebrates her Métis and Cree ancestry, Niemi was born in Prince Albert, Sask. and grew up in Prince George. Her family moved to Prince George when she was an infant and she attended elementary and secondary school in the community.
She is the first-generation Indigenous student within her family to earn a Master’s degree. She believes the support systems available for Indigenous students at UNBC made the transition from high school to post-secondary education easier.
“As an Indigenous student at UNBC, I feel proud to see the various ways that our University includes culture as part of our school community, truly honouring the UNBC motto of En Cha Huna and respecting all forms of life,” she said.
She believes the community atmosphere at UNBC directly impacted her success in post-secondary education and it was one of the best-lived experiences she has had as a student.
“The level of support UNBC provides students is first-class,” she said. “Not only do you have supportive instructors and support staff, you have the whole university community walking beside you and believing in you.
“The authentic level of care and support you are provided as a student gives you this rich sense of belonging and deeper belief in yourself that you are capable of becoming successful in whatever you decide to do.”
Niemi earned her graduate degree while working as the District Administrator, Aboriginal Education for School District 57 (Prince George).
Niemi will give her valedictorian address at UNBC’s College of Arts, Social and Health Sciences (CASHS) ceremony at 9:30 a.m.
While her educational journey at UNBC is complete, she’ll be using the skills and knowledge that she acquired during her studies to further contribute to academic research in Indigenous education.
She’s enrolled at Western University in London, Ont. pursuing her PhD in school leadership for international contexts.
Rashid is graduating with his Bachelor of Science in biochemistry as an honours student.
He says the greatest experience he had at UNBC happened when he conducted research from 2014-2016 with UNBC Biochemistry Professor Dr. Chow Lee on finding anti-cancer compounds from mushrooms.
Rashid’s work led to earning the prestigious Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada’s Research Studentship, where he utilized his mushroom research in order to find small molecules that could pass the blood brain barriers and potentially be used in brain cancer treatment.
The award is given to only five Canadians each year. Rashid was the first UNBC student to ever receive the scholarship and the only recipient west of Ontario that year.
The scholarship was funded by the Taite Boomer Foundation, which is in honour of a University of Alberta student who died from a brain tumour at the young age of 20.
“I was humbled and honoured to receive it,” said Rashid. “This story inspired and motivated me to put my best efforts into my work, which I performed from 2015 to 2016. Working on this project with Dr. Lee was perhaps one of the most fulfilling and character building experiences of my life, something I will truly cherish and something that has definitely influenced my career interests.”
Besides his research, Rashid also spent hundreds of hours volunteering within the community, such as the Northern BC Crisis Centre, the Canadian Cancer Society’s Northern Region office, the University Hospital of Northern BC and Canadian Blood Services.
At UNBC, he was involved with the peer support network, orientation, Shinerama, and was a member of several different clubs and served as president for one. He also worked for the Eagle Nest Community and Aboriginal Services as a youth worker for children in group homes from troubled backgrounds.
His volunteer engagement opened up his eyes to the world.
He says the people at UNBC and the sense of community are among what he enjoyed the most and what he’ll remember from his time as an undergraduate student.
He has made so many friends from all walks of life which has expanded his own worldview.
Rashid will speak at the College of Science and Management ceremony at 2:30 p.m.