Ch'nook Scholars Program fuels Indigenous student’s dream of becoming a Chartered Professional Accountant

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Posted 2020-01-29

Chris Scarlatti knows the value of hard work. A resident of Courtenay, B.C., Scarlatti worked minimum wage jobs for more than two decades, picking up invaluable skills and expertise that would one day lead him into his new phase of education. 

"I went back to college and decided that since I was good with mathematics, I'd pursue a business degree in accounting," says Scarlatti. 

Scarlatti enrolled in the Bachelor of Business Administration program at North Island College (NIC). Once he was in the program, his horizons widened. "They [faculty at NIC] started to push me to strive for new goals," says Scarlatti. 

It was at the encouragement of an Aboriginal advisor at NIC that he applied to the Ch'nook Scholars Program at the UBC Sauder School of Business — a coveted opportunity that gives Indigenous post-secondary business students in British Columbia the financial means, mentorship and connections to succeed in their studies and careers. 

The program, which began in 2007, complements post-secondary education and aims to equip students with leadership skills and business knowledge. Scarlatti knew the scholarship would take his new academic journey to the next level. 

"When I got the acceptance letter, I nearly hit the roof. I couldn't believe it," recounts Scarlatti. 

The scholarship provides Scarlatti with the financial means to continue his studies at NIC. "Knowing that there was extra help to pay for tuition and books — it meant that I could pick up an extra course each semester which I couldn't afford before. This helps me accelerate my studies a bit more," says Scarlatti, who's a single parent. 


Connecting back to culture

In addition to his coursework at NIC, Scarlatti has discovered new avenues of learning at UBC Sauder in Vancouver, where he spent time at the Fall Scholars Gathering in November. There, he explored case competitions for the first time, and worked with UBC Sauder faculty, as well as industry experts from a consulting firm and coffee company.

"Seeing the way problems are solved, the processes of getting from start to finish, and how one can contribute to that journey as an employee opened my eyes to things I didn't know existed in the business world," says Scarlatti. 

The gathering also delivered workshops on honing job-readiness and interviewing skills and explored the importance of networking in the business field. Guest speakers also spoke about the secrets to remaining motivated and being an effective leader. 

For Scarlatti, the gathering at UBC Sauder was a reminder that his scholarship wouldn't just benefit him as an individual, but his community too. 

"I got a sense of how we could connect it back to our culture, and how we could take what we've learned and bring it back to our bands, communities and schools to have more of a voice. I realized I could bring back more ideas for other Aboriginal students in my community."

Scarlatti's Indigenous roots are in the Ojibway nation of Ontario, and he continues to be in touch with the Indigenous heritage of his new hometown in B.C. "To me, the teachings — even if it's in a different language — are all the same. The culture, how we raise our family, that's more important than one specific band. In the end we're all brothers and sisters, we're all related," says Scarlatti.


Feeling at home 

The Ch'nook Scholars Program was founded to empower Indigenous students and connect them with the wider community of Indigenous changemakers on the West Coast who are contributing and making an impact. The hallmark program is made possible by the generosity of donors such as the Chartered Professional Accountants of BC and many others who offer invaluable support. 

Jonathan Easey, who works with the Ch’nook Scholars Program and the Ch’nook Accelerated Business Program (ABP) at UBC Sauder, says at the heart of founding the scholarship was an acknowledgement that business schools can often be a colonial and isolating experience for Indigenous students. Over the years, there's been so much momentum behind the program that new students are increasingly feeling at home at UBC Sauder. 

"Sometimes Ch’nook Scholars come and meet other Indigenous students from their own school that they had never met before. At the end of the program, they often remark that they’ve met a whole new network of friends,” explains Easey.

“It’s great to see a real sense of community building within the program – one that you know will follow the Ch’nook Scholars throughout their careers.”

The Ch'nook Scholars Program has reached a stage where there's an up-and-running alumni network of individuals who are leaving their footprints in the business world in B.C, across Canada and even globally.

Easey says the program is a step towards helping students find their true potential and become an inspiring force in their communities, especially as Canada comes to terms with its commitment towards reconciliation.

He has witnessed first-hand the ripple effect created by Ch’nook Scholars and their commitment to making an impact in the business world. 

"One of my favourite parts of the job is when I am out at events and meeting Indigenous entrepreneurs or professionals, and they say, 'Oh, you work at Ch'nook? I used to be a Ch'nook Scholar!'” says Easey. “Not only is it great to meet alumni of the program, but it’s wonderful to see what a tangible impact they are having on the Indigenous business community.”


The pursuit of becoming a Chartered Professional Accountant

Easey remembers being impressed by Scarlatti’s application and how motivated he was to overcome his personal challenges to reach a specific goal. 

"I remember being struck by his drive," says Easey, who sifted through many qualified applications to select the top 20. “Chris really conveyed a sense of personal growth in his application – where he came from, where he’s got his sights set next, and how he plans to get there.” 

Another element that stood out in Scarlatti's application was his commitment to pursuing an accounting degree and becoming a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) — and this didn't go unnoticed by the Chartered Professional Accountants of BC (CPABC). 

“As a profession, we’re always looking to attract people who will make a difference. Ethics and integrity are at the heart of our profession, and Chris certainly stands out as someone who is committed to advancing the best interests of his community with his professional skills. Our CPA Education Foundation (CPAEF) is proud to support Indigenous students and we hope that many more Ch’nook Scholars will pursue a career in accounting,” says Lori Mathison, FCPA, FCGA, LLB, President & CEO of CPABC and Executive Director of the CPAEF.

Scarlatti draws inspiration from people who continue to help him surmount personal and financial hurdles. When he attains his CPA, he wants to give back by working with not-for-profit companies.

He's also determined to tell more Indigenous business students about the Ch'nook Scholars Program, and wants to ensure that organizations across B.C. recognize the talent that comes from colleges and communities just like his. 

Learn more about the Ch’nook Scholars Program.