New scholarship commemorates a remarkable life and encourages Indigenous pursuits in geoscience
July 20, 2021
This article was originally published in the May/June edition of The Prospector News, and we shared it with permission of the publication and the author. We’re pleased to help fund this scholarship initiative.
The Brian Nadjiwon Memorial Scholarship
By: Amanda Dawn Graff
In commemoration of a life well lived, the Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) Department of Geography and the Environment is proud to launch a new scholarship program that will support and encourage Indigenous participation in the study of geosciences across BC-based post-secondary institutions.
The program has been created in honour of Brian Nadjiwon, a beloved father, brother, innovator, member of the Chippewas of Nawash First Nations, and former student of KPU where he pursued his passion for information technology and geoscience. On August 14, 2020, Brian’s life was tragically cut short as he passed suddenly at the age of 59 at his home in Delta, BC.
Less than two per cent of students enrolled in STEM fields of study (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) are Indigenous. We need to empower Indigenous people to become the decision-makers regarding their own lands and resources.
Brian’s life is one that can be characterized by remarkable resiliency, as he overcame staggering obstacles to live a meaningful life and make his mark on both the field of geoscience and his surrounding community. After his sudden passing, one of his closest friends and fellow students Cynthia Simonis collaborated with Dr. Leonora King, M.Sc., Ph.D., faculty member at KPU and Brian’s former instructor. Through this collaboration, the idea for the scholarship program was born:
“Brian demonstrated exceptional self-motivation and he leveraged his passion to infuse innovative thinking into the field of geoscience,” said Dr. Leonora King, M.Sc., Ph.D. “He was looking forward to taking his data analysis skills to the next level and further explore his theories through graduate studies. His passing was a significant loss to the geoscience community as well as the community at large. We conceived of the scholarship program as a meaningful way to preserve his legacy.”
Brian developed automated programs to scrape geological data from government websites and plot the data in time and space.
The scholarship initiative represents a vital step towards the reclamation of resources and land management on behalf of Indigenous people. It will open the door for Indigenous students to participate in geoscience theory and application, lending a much-needed perspective. Brian’s twin brother, Brent Nadjiwon, who has been working closely with KPU Geography on the roll out of the scholarship program, remarks:
“Less than two per cent of students enrolled in STEM fields of study (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) are Indigenous. We need to empower Indigenous people to become the decision-makers regarding their own lands and resources. The scholarship program will encourage this transition by promoting access to education so that we can achieve greater representation in the STEM fields. It will also help to further the braiding of Indigenous knowledge with western science.”
A remarkable man, a life well lived.
Brian was born in the early 60s to a family that was coping with the devastating impact of the residential school system and traumatic wounds inflicted by years of colonialism. In his youth, Brian and his twin brother were separated, disconnected from their culture, and placed in the foster care system.
Bright and curious with a passion for learning, Brian triumphed over these painful experiences and channeled his natural aptitude for math, science and technology into a successful career.
While studying computer science at Carleton University, he landed an IT position with the federal government where he built one of the country’s first ever national computer networks. He later moved out west to secure a coveted position with Microsoft. Brent Nadjiwon explains:
“From the time we were young, Brian had an impressive skillset that enabled him to inherently understand any technology, no matter how complex. We nicknamed him the digital kid. When he lived in Guelph, he would spend hours in the computer lab at Guelph University, and this was back in the 1970s when personal computers had just entered the scene. It was like he was always one step ahead of the technology curve.”
In his later years, Brian made his home on a farm in Delta, BC where his dear friend Cynthia Simonis helped him cultivate a peaceful and fulfilling life while dedicating himself to caring for his son Ryan. It was also during this time that Brian rediscovered his passion and aptitude for learning by enrolling at KPU.
Brian Nadjiwon inspects a glacially deposited rock in Stanley Park, BC.
Brian utilized his skillset to pursue geological research, with a focus on the Pacific Northwest. He developed automated programs to scrape geological data from government websites and plot the data in time and space. Brian then developed innovative theories to explain the data patterns that arose, with a desire to investigate the interconnectedness of geological components. According to his brother Brent, Brian was also applying his skills to shed light on the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic:
“Brian leveraged specialized computer programs to map and analyze the spread of the pandemic on a global scale. His ability to reveal insights from data patterns was unlike anything I’ve ever seen.”
Steps to scholarship success
At the inception of the scholarship initiative, KPU Geography performed a feasibility study to determine if there was a sizeable pool of interested applicants. Once this was confirmed, the department then partnered with The Engineers and Geoscientists BC Foundation (EGBCF), a registered charity, which will create and host the scholarship on an ongoing basis.
Dr. Leonora King, M.Sc., Ph.D., explains: “When young people are planning their academic careers, they may not be aware of the field of geoscience and the vast opportunities offered by this multifaceted discipline. We’re hoping that this initiative will bring geosciences to the forefront while remedying the underrepresentation that currently exists in this field. Our long-term goal is to not only support Indigenous students at the academic level, but also offer continuing support throughout the career development process.”
We view this scholarship as a trailblazer that will pave the way for like-minded programs across other academic disciplines.
KPU is now working towards a goal of securing $50,000 as a capital base and will continue to fundraise towards an ultimate goal of $100,000. This will be achieved through several strategies including corporate commitments, individual commitments and donations received through GoFundMe.
As a next step, Brian’s family will collaborate with the EGBCF to determine eligibility criteria, the selection process, annual award amount, number of awards given, among other details of the program.
Prospective students will then be able to apply, and awards will be granted each year. The scholarship program will be open to self-identified Indigenous students including Métis, First Nations and Inuit studying geoscience at BC-based post-secondary institutions. Brent Nadjiwon states:
“We view this scholarship as a trailblazer that will pave the way for like-minded programs across other academic disciplines. We would also like to eventually see similar initiatives rolled out nationwide. I couldn’t think of a more meaningful tribute to my brother, as these initiatives will allow his legacy to continue to make a positive impact on our communities.”
For more information on the Brian Nadjiwon Memorial Scholarship, please visit https://wordpress.kpu.ca/briannadjiwon/. To make a corporate or individual donation, please contact [email protected]. You can also donate directly through GoFundMe.
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At FortisBC, we appreciate the opportunity to support scholarships that aim to increase diversity in the many professions needed to safely deliver the energy our customers rely on every day. Find out more about FortisBC’s Indigenous training and scholarship initiatives.