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From Hawaii to Parliament Hill: How a Third-year Guelph-Humber Justice Studies Student Started Building a Foundation for a Promising Career

Kaitlynn McLeod smiling

If you told Kaitlynn McLeod last year she'd speak in the nation's capital to a senator, university presidents, and other government leaders in Ottawa, she might not have believed you. 

But on October 3rd, that's exactly what she did. Kaitlynn was among 20 students who travelled to Ottawa to share their inspiring stories with government officials as part of the Global Skills Opportunity (GSO) Canada program. 

“I am so grateful to have had the chance to discuss such important topics, and to represent Humber College amongst so many great leaders from across the nation,” Kaitlynn shared in a LinkedIn post.

Kaitlynn is a third-year Guelph-Humber student studying in the Justice Studies program, while also working as a program assistant for Indigenous Education and Engagement on campus. As a member of the Ojibwe and Cayuga nations, she knows how important it is to ensure Indigenous students feel connected to their culture and community during their time away from home.

And so it was no surprise when Kaitlyn chose to embark on the GSO-funded Summer Abroad program,"He Waa He Moku, He Moku He Waa Kaua'i" through Humber College and Kaua'i Community College.

This 18-day journey began at the Six Nations reserve of Ohsweken, Ontario, where she learned about the Haudenosaunee people's heritage, language, and vibrant culture. From there, she travelled to Hawaii, where she and her classmates explored the state's own Indigenous history and cultural treasures. 

Collage of three images. Two individuals in a red canoe. Someone holding a bow and arrow looking down range at targets. Kaitlynn McLeod speaking with two individuals holding a large brown sheet of paper with writing on it.

On Parliament Hill

Rubbing elbows with policymakers on the Hill, Kaitlynn had the unique opportunity to share an ‘elevator pitch’ about her experience abroad, and the impact of engaging in cultural exchange with other Indigenous peoples. She participated in a roundtable discussion with many of the same people who developed the GSO, the Global Abroad program, and the associated scholarships and grants.

Kaitlynn also met with the President of Humber College, Dr. Ann Marie Vaughan, and leadership from various other universities. Kaitlynn was fortunate to have an in-depth conversation with Conservative Senator Yonah Martin from BC.

"We were talking about the importance of cross-cultural learning and the education aspect too," Kaitlynn recalled. "It was nice to connect on that level and talk about the importance of education, travelling, and meeting new people and [having] new experiences."

Collage of two images.One image with Kaitlynn McLeod smiling beside two banners by Colleges and Institutes Canada. Second photo is Kaitlynn sitting with five other individuals

Key Lessons Learned

Kaitlynn says this entire experience has taught her about the power of being a changemaker; the importance of resilience and adaptability, and the impact that engaging and sharing with others can have on your life.

"I think this experience [of] talking to all these different community leaders, how they developed their own programming and working within the community to address these different needs to these issues really inspired me. [This experience] helped me realize that you can be that person of change; it can just start with something small," Kaitlynn said.

Kaitlynn McLeod smiling with text, "The experience helped me realize that you can be that person of change; it can just start with something small."

Foundations for the Future

Since she’s been home, Kaitlynn has had time to reflect on all that’s happened since she first joined the Summer Abroad Program. She says there’s been a shift; she has improved her public speaking and interviewing skills, and she’s much more comfortable with networking. 

"I think my communication skills were developed a lot more, especially after visiting Parliament and being able to give that elevator pitch. [It] built [up] my confidence," Kaitlynn said.

Where will Kaitlynn go next? As she continues toward graduating from the Justice Studies program, she says this experience has certainly motivated her to become a changemaker in her own right by planning a career in social work. Kaitlynn says that as an Indigenous person who grew up in downtown Hamilton, Ontario, and saw first-hand how people from Indigenous backgrounds were treated in the criminal justice system, she thinks she could do a lot of good in this field.

"I want to work in that community again. I'm familiar with the people, and I want to interact with groups that might not get treated the best," Kaitlynn said. 

For now, she’s opened her mind to whatever possibilities come her way, and the endless pathways in front of her.

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