Nov. 15, 2019

Class of 2019: Student adviser believes in value of diverse student population

Werklund School’s Lisa Llewellyn advocates for adult and Indigenous learners

Lisa Llewellyn has a growing reputation across campus as a tireless champion for individuals who may not fit the traditional mold of a university student. In her position as graduate program administrator in the Werklund School of Education, she supports adult and Indigenous learners to fulfil their aspirations of earning a graduate degree.

Regarding her advocacy for members of underrepresented populations at the University of Calgary, she says she is no different from other staff who work with students. “I strongly believe that all UCalgary staff are advocates for our students and want them to succeed.”

Llewellyn began working in post-secondary education in 2003 and says the Werklund School’s approach to alternative admission and relevant prior learning was revelatory.

“Our graduate programs open the door for students who wish to achieve a university degree and also put their degree into practice to contribute to societal change. We understand that the experience they have gained since completing an undergraduate degree can be a strong contribution to our professional programs.” 

That said, Llewellyn recognizes the importance of admission standards and ensures faculty and students follow university policies. Her concern for striking a balance between individual and institutional needs has earned her praise from those she works with.

“Lisa is a role model and leader as she sees opportunities when some might only see challenges. She is always willing to provide support, alternate perspectives and encouragement,” says Dr. Colleen Kawalilak, associate dean, international in the Werklund School.

Lifelong learner

A desire to better guide students motivated Llewellyn to pursue a Master of Education in Post-Secondary Leadership with a concentration on access and diversity in higher education. She explored methods for attracting a more diverse student population in her studies while continuing to serve as administrator for the Master of Education Indigenous Education: A Call to Action topic area.  

Llewellyn credits her parents for instilling in her an interest in Indigenous culture, but she understood that she had much to learn. This need for a deeper understanding of Indigenous culture, history and ways of knowing resulted in a meeting with Dr. Yvonne Poitras Pratt, PhD, the director of Indigenous education in the Werklund School. When she admitted her lack of knowledge about Indigenous people in Canada, Pratt counselled that each person has the responsibility, through personal experiences and relationship building, to create a space that provides equitable treatment and rights for all.

“Yvonne’s advice has been my advising principle with students, staff, faculty and community members," Llwewllyn says. "Every prospective student and student I work with, I try to hear their story.”

For her part, Pratt believes Llewellyn has contributed greatly to student success: “Our program cohorts have been regularly comprised of approximately half Aboriginal and half non-Aboriginal students and I would suggest that a good number of the Aboriginal students have found their way into Werklund because of Lisa's openness and encouragement.

“The students greet her as a friend and a confidante someone who has helped them navigate the system to find a spot in our graduate programs.”

Relationship building

Over the past several years Llewellyn has furthered her learning by attending the Kindling Conversations discussions, campfire chats and powwows offered by the Werklund School and UCalgary.

“I am in the early stage of my journey towards reconciliation. This is how I am learning and building relationships so I can better understand how, as an ally, I can be a part of the reconciliation process. I feel I am now able to better support Indigenous students.”

Lisa Llewellyn celebrates the convocation of Clarence Roy Blackwater and Santanita Louise Oka during their 2018 convocation

Lisa Llewellyn celebrates the success of Clarence Roy Blackwater and Santanita Louise Oka.

Photo courtesy of Lisa Llewellyn

A highlight of Llewellyn’s journey was the Niitsiitappi Community Initiatives and Knowledge Mobilization Dialogue. Held in Lethbridge, the event invited members of the Blackfoot Confederacy to provide insight into how research funding could best be used to support community needs. She was initially asked to take notes at the talk, but with support from Werklund School Associate Professor Dr. Karlee Fellner, PhD, she was invited to facilitate discussions with Elders and community members.

“I was honoured that they trusted me, a non-Indigenous, non-resident of the community, and member of a large university, to carry on a dialogue about research with prominent members of the confederacy. That day was very humbling for me,” she says.

Now that her studies are finished, Llewellyn says she plans to focus on her family but is also making time to present at the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA) 2020 Region 8 conference. She has also been asked to join the NACADA Native American and Tribal College Advising Community.

No matter what future challenges she takes on, Llewellyn will continue to be an advocate for those who bring a unique and diverse perspective to the university.