Saskatchewan Polytechnic iMpowered scholarship winner given opportunity to focus on her studies and career goals.

When Saskatchewan Polytechnic Mining Engineering Technology student Michelle Low learned that she was to receive a $25,000 iMpowered scholarship last year, she could hardly believe it. “I wasn’t even going to apply for the award,” she says, recalling the day last spring when program head Danielle Faris encouraged her to fill out an application. “She said to me, ‘Apply, Michelle. Just apply!’ She was so encouraging, so I did.”

The iMpowered Scholarship was created by the International Minerals Innovation Institute (IMII) in 2019 as part of a $510,000 commitment on behalf of its mineral industry members—BHP, Cameco, K+S Potash Canada, Mosaic and Nutrien, and Innovation Saskatchewan—to help build a diverse, inclusive and qualified workforce for Saskatchewan’s minerals industry.

“We have supported five students so far with $150,0000 in funding,” says IMII executive director Al Shpyth, “including renewing one students’ funding into a second year. Our members have committed to having a workforce that is representative of the communities in which they operate, and this scholarship is one way we directly encourage this mandate.” The scholarships support college, polytechnic and university women and Indigenous students with financial responsibilities for their families, enrolled in a science, technology, engineering, mathematics or computer science program and interested in a career in the minerals industry.

Low perfectly fit this description. As a young mom juggling education while raising a toddler, she had been in and out of school and the workforce trying to make her dream of working in the industry a reality. After a year and a half studying at Sask Polytech, Low took a winter off school. She had struggled with math the previous term and decided to work for a while.

Going back to school was a daunting prospect that included finding the right childcare and figuring out how to juggle work and family commitments with a course load on top of it all. “If it wasn’t for Danielle, I’m not sure I would be back,” explains Low.

iMpowered scholarship applications take time and thought. Applicants submit an essay and information about past activities and their current situation. Shortlisted candidates are then interviewed. For Low, the news that she had been shortlisted came in mid-September, and she learned that she had been chosen for a scholarship about a week later. “It was super shocking,” says Low, but with the news of the award she felt a huge pressure off. It was the first time in her school and career path that she didn’t have to work.

This meant that Low was able to focus on her education, and it is this benefit she describes as the biggest gift the iMpowered scholarship bestowed. As a result, her marks have improved, she has been able to submit assignments on time, and, probably most importantly, it has given her peace of mind. “I was able to find a really good daycare for my daughter,” says Low, “one that I felt comfortable with. That has been a huge relief and has made it so much easier to focus on my studies and accept opportunities as they come up.”

One such opportunity presented itself this past term, when a Saskatchewan Polytechnic applied research partnership with Queen’s University and Nutrien announced it was looking for four students to work on a project over the summer. Low applied and got one of the positions and she is now spending her summer taking clay samples at Nutrien’s Cory potash mine site. Low has had a passion for rocks and minerals for many years, so the position excited her at once. “Our samples will help to figure out what the clays in potash are made of, so we can better understand the composition of deposits at various sites.”

Low has some freedom at the Cory site and notes that she doesn’t have to take samples every day. That leaves her with time to explore and learn different areas of the mine engineering department. “I’ve really enjoyed working in potash so far. It’s been a great experience.”

September means back to school for Low and her classmates, where she will take two courses in the fall and finish up her program at Sask Polytech over the winter term. After that, you might say the province is her oyster.

“There’s tons of opportunity in the minerals industry in Saskatchewan,” she says. “I’d like to work in uranium someday, though that’s harder with kids given the distances to sites in the north. Five years down the road I would like to be working in planning or project management.”

What advice would Low give to a fellow student thinking about applying for an iMpowered scholarship? “Apply! Just apply!”

The application period for the iMpowered scholarship closes on July 16, 2021. The winner will be announced in September 2021. Apply today!

Published July 2021