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UofGH Justice Studies student wins prestigious ABLE Scholarship Award

Fourth-year University of Guelph-Humber Justice Studies student Nicola Foster recently won an Association of Black Law Enforcers (ABLE) Scholarship Award. Foster was one of seven recipients who received the awards at ABLE’s annual Scholarship Awards Ball.

Nicola Foster

Scholarship recipients were selected based on academic excellence, community involvement, and financial need. Post-secondary students who are studying Law Enforcement/Law & Security, Correctional Worker Program, Law and Criminal Justice Studies, Police Foundation Studies, and Criminology are eligible to apply for the annual award.

This year’s Ball had over 500 attendees, including many different law enforcement agencies and members of the community, says Jacqueline Edwards, President of ABLE, who was also the award’s first recipient in 1993. “It was a wonderful evening of celebrating the recipients, and that’s what the gala is about – to celebrate these amazing students,” says Edwards. Foster was chosen as valedictorian, and gave a speech on behalf of the award recipients.

The Ball also provided valuable networking opportunities. Foster, who hopes to join the York Regional Police (YRP) department after graduation, was excited to meet YRP’s Chief of Police and members of its recruiting team. “It was a great experience – it was definitely great for me in terms of my career and where I want to go, and helped me a lot with networking and getting my foot in the door,” says Foster. “I want to thank ABLE for awarding me this scholarship, and for giving me the opportunity to network within my area of interest.”

Connecting with community

Foster was exposed to policing at an early age, having grown up with aunts and uncles who worked as police officers, but she initially had no interest in pursuing a law enforcement career. “I knew policing was obviously something attainable because I had family members who were police officers but it was definitely not something I was planning to do,” recalls Foster, who originally wanted to become a social worker based on its potential to work directly with the community.  

She later changed her mind when she saw that policing still gave her the potential to interact with her community and make an impact, but in a different way. It also provided career growth and professional development opportunities. “I found I could work directly with my community on a day-to-day basis through crime prevention and crime intervention, so I decided to go that route because I felt it was more meaningful to me, and as a lifelong learner, I was looking for a career that would allow me to continue to grow and develop in an organization, so I think policing is a great career for that,” she says.

Nicola Foster

When she becomes a police officer, she hopes to help change the perception of police officers for her generation. “I want to transform my generation’s view of police officers. I hate that a video can go viral that displays them in a negative light, and kind of taints my entire generation’s view of police officers, so I want to shift that and restore the trust and confidence in police officers in my generation specifically,” she says.  “Because my generation is so heavily impacted on social media, I want to shift the focus onto more community development and community policing to make the relationship between the public and law enforcement a bit more cohesive.”

Building diversity in law enforcement

The goal of ABLE’s Scholarship Award – created in honour of Peter Butler III and Rose Fortune, the first black male and female police officers in Canada – is to help ensure that the criminal justice system reflects Canada’s diverse population by providing tuition assistance. “This award allows us as an organization to contribute to the pursuit of academic excellence of community-minded students,” says Edwards. “Having people of colour, racialized minorities, black folks, pursue a career in law enforcement is obviously of great importance to us, because as the Association of Black Law Enforcers, we would like to see a diverse representation of people in our field.”

“I think it’s so important that police officers are reflective of who they’re policing,” agrees Foster. “In order to build a relationship with their community, their community needs to be able to relate to them in some way.”

“For me, the award meant a lot because of who it was coming from,” she continues. “I think ABLE is a remarkable organization, and the win meant to me that I was part of an organization that was striving for excellence in terms of helping and empowering those who may experience barriers in their professional or academic lives.”

A long-standing relationship

ABLE and UofGH have enjoyed a long-standing relationship, having partnered for over a decade to host an annual Justice Career Fair – one of the largest public safety career fairs in Canada.

Nicola Foster

“The University of Guelph-Humber has always supported ABLE’s initiatives on so many different levels,” says Edwards. “It’s a positive relationship, it’s a long-standing one, and one we hope will remain intact for years to come.”

With one more year to go at UofGH, Foster says she is looking forward to the future. When she graduates, she plans to apply to YRP, and may also apply to Master’s programs in the future.  She encourages other UofGH students to apply for the ABLE Scholarship Award, and get involved with ABLE. “It’s an amazing opportunity for you to kick-start your career, get your name out there, meet recruiters for your desired route, and at the end of the day it’s a meaningful organization to be a part of,” she says. “I want to get the word to other UofGH students that it’s an amazing opportunity, and I would encourage anyone to apply.”