Young Aboriginal MBA Strives To Balance Culture With Success


The path to self discovery can often be far from what we expect. Especially when it comes to career decisions.

Just when you think you have everything figured out, you might discover an untapped interest or skill.

For Elyse Campbell, who is Algonquin from Greater Golden Lake in Ontario (about 150 km west of Ottawa), it was such a discovery that led to her pursuit of a career entirely different from the one she had originally intended.

At age 17, Elyse was accepted to university on a scholarship to study kinesiology. Like many young people, instead of heading to post-secondary school immediately, she decided to take some time to work and save up for living expenses. She was soon promoted to Manager-in-Training and moved to Niagara Falls to run her own clothing store.

Although she may not have realized it at the time, this experience helped Elyse develop her customer service skills, can-do attitude, talent for negotiation and her ability to multitask.

Or, as Elyse refers to them, “the qualities that employers look for on a bigger scale.” And this is also when she fell in love with business.

In lieu of following through with her undergrad in kinesiology, Elyse made the decision to simultaneously complete two three-year diplomas in International Trade in Business Administration and Marketing at Fleming College in Peterborough, Ontario.

Soon after obtaining her diplomas, she began working toward a commerce degree at Trent University. Through her business endeavours, she has also had the opportunity to travel across Europe, North America and even China.

“We are the next generation of leaders and it is our job to balance culture and success, and to never sacrifice one for the other.” —Elyse Campbell, Business Analyst, ISM Canada

Elyse also spent some time as a career coach with the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies, a post-secondary institution offering training and educational programs to First Nations adults in Saskatoon.

Her passion for learning and business eventually led her to pursue her MBA at the University of Saskatchewan. With this decision Elyse found a way to align her personal and professional goals.

The choice to add these three letters to her name was influenced by her desire to represent Aboriginal people at the executive level wherever possible. As she so eloquently puts it, “We are the next generation of leaders and it is our job to balance culture and success, and to never sacrifice one for the other.”

But Elyse doesn’t sugarcoat it. Putting herself through school was not easy. When it became exceptionally difficult, she budgeted more, worked harder and slept less. And the benefits have been obvious.

While she was working on her MBA, Elyse was selected to take part in Inclusion Works ’12 – an event run by the Aboriginal Human Resource Council to help build bridges between Indigenous people and business communities. Elyse was able to participate in eight job interviews in just three days, received multiple offers and was hired by IT firm ISM Canada to work as a Business Analyst in Saskatoon.

As Elyse puts it, “The exercise of networking allows you to put your communication skills to work and prove you’re the right candidate for the job.”

Being prepared with your resume, experience, and education is only half of the battle.  Participating in conferences and recruiting events allows you to stick out in the mind of employers.  At the end of it all, it’s really not about who you know but rather who knows you.

How to carve a successful path toward your future career

Elyse’s top 3 tips:

  1. Have confidence in your own abilities. After all, if you don’t believe that you can do the job, it will be near impossible to convince others that you can.
  2. Be aware of the opportunities available to you. You can’t explore your options if you don’t know what they are. So take the time, do the research and find out exactly where you could be headed.
  3. Find role models to prove it can be done. Because sometimes if you don’t see it, you really won’t believe it.

Aboriginal Careers Week featuring PwC and BHP Billiton

Photo credit: Victor1558