Top Hat was founded with the mission to make education better, for everyone. No catches, no asterisks, no compromises. Unfortunately, we know that many students, especially those who experience structural discrimation, face financial and environmental barriers that make it very difficult to complete or even start their education. Nowhere is this truer today than in First Nations communities within Canada where only 10 percent of Indigenous people aged 25-641 have a university degree and fewer than three percent have earned a master’s or Ph.D.2 As a company proudly founded and based in Canada, we are deeply committed to helping close these gaps.
On behalf of all employees at Top Hat, I am excited to announce that we are partnering with the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society to bolster the Shannen’s Dream Scholarship, an award that helps First Nations youth with the costs of post-secondary education. We will be providing $30,000 a year to ensure hardworking individuals can pursue their dreams of higher learning.
The Scholarship is named in honor of Shannen Koostachin, a courageous young leader from Attawapiskat First Nation who sparked a national movement for safe and comfortable schools for First Nations students. Shannen and her classmates never had the chance to go to a real school. The only school in Attawapiskat was closed because of a diesel fuel leak in 1979 that poisoned the land under the school building. In 2007, after the government again canceled plans for a new school, Shannen and her friends started a movement on social media to tell people about the government’s broken promises. They asked kids across Canada to support them by writing letters to the government demanding good schools for First Nations children. Sadly, Shannen passed away in 2010 and never saw the new school that was finally built in Attawapiskat in 2014. The Shannen’s Dream campaign is about making sure First Nations students have schools that provide quality and culturally based education. In 2012, a Private Member’s motion in support of Shannen’s Dream passed unanimously in the House of Commons, but First Nations education is still underfunded by the federal government compared to provincial and territorial schools.
Shannen Koostachin believed that your time spent in school should be a time for dreaming. The values of equity, opportunity, connection and community are an integral part of the scholarship and are shared by everyone at Top Hat. As a “pay-it-forward” scholarship, recipients are expected to make a measurable contribution to spreading awareness about the Shannen’s Dream campaign or a related First Nations initiative. This scholarship program offers a remarkable level of support for First Nations students in Canada, and we’re extremely excited to help Shannen’s mission live on with a new generation of young leaders.
Helping more students enter higher ed on equal footing.
Shannen Koostachin was an inspiration to all of Canada, and now we’re hoping to elevate her legacy to new heights to inspire others to find ways to make education more accessible and more inclusive. As Shannen’s own efforts have shown, students can go so much further when the barriers they face are finally knocked down. We are committed to finding more ways to give back to students, and look forward to announcing more partnerships in the near future.
Because the more people that benefit from a better education, the better our world will be.
—Joe Rohrlich, CEO of Top Hat
The winners of the 2022 Shannen’s Dream Scholarship are:
- Janine Rattlesnake, Indigenous Social Work Student, Maskwacìs Cultural College
- Gregory Meconse, After-Degree Education Program Student, University of Winnipeg
- Chett Monague, Doctor of Chiropractic Medicine Student, Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College
- Jorden Hendry, PhD in Indigenous Public Health Student, University of British Columbia
- Advancing Reconciliation Through Postsecondary Education. (2018, November 19). Universities Canada. https://www.univcan.ca/media-room/media-releases/advancing-reconciliation-through-postsecondary-education/
- Sarah, T. (2018, December 7). How Canadian universities are responding to the TRC’s Calls to Action. Maclean’s. https://www.macleans.ca/education/how-canadian-universities-are-responding-to-the-trcs-calls-to-action/