That’s what Denese Brown-Bell’s grandmother saw in her all those years ago.
It’s also what Brown-Bell (MEd ’19) herself now recognizes in the many children she works with as an educator in the First Nations communities of Saskatchewan.
And, just like her grandmother, she’s driven to draw that potential out.
Knowing first-hand the transformative impact education can have has motivated Brown-Bell, a Brock University Educational Studies PhD student, to help the next generation of young learners to thrive.
Her dedication to and interest in improving the education system recently saw her named one of this year’s 20 Horizon Graduate Student Scholarship recipients.
Launched in the 2020-21 academic year, the annual award supports high-achieving graduate students from research-based programs who identify as Black, Indigenous or People of Colour or from other under-represented groups. Recipients receive a one-time award of $5,000.
The Horizon Scholarship fund, which is set to provide $1 million to incoming students over 10 years, is intended to help Brock attract top researchers and students from various fields while building a diverse and inclusive university community.
The award’s recipients may come from different backgrounds, each having overcome their own obstacles along the way, but they share a similar passion for research and the desire to help better the world in some way.
Brown-Bell grew up in a single-parent household in Jamaica, where money was tight and possibilities were limited — but they did exist.
She poured all that she had into bettering her life through education.
Brown-Bell went on to complete her undergraduate studies and Master of Business Administration, but after becoming a mother, her focus shifted.
Within his first year of life, Brown-Bell’s son, Cameron, became gravely ill.
“His illness would make me reconsider the choice I made to do business and not follow through on the desire my grandmother had for me to become a teacher,” she says. “My son’s illness caused developmental delays that would make him struggle to meet the rigours of Jamaica’s education system. His future needs and my grandmother’s desire for me to become a teacher made me change my education pathway.”
As an educator, Brown-Bell has found herself intrigued by the challenges students, like her son, face.
“Becoming a part of the solution for my son and my students inspired me to pursue higher education,” she says. “I need to have the tools and knowledge necessary to find meaningful ways to be a part of the solution.”
Brown-Bell’s research now focuses on education cognition and learning.
She hopes to create change by advocating for the “inclusion of the cultural aspects of Indigenous Peoples in the curriculum in Canada.”
Students in First Nations schools, such as those Brown-Bell has been working in since graduating with her Master of Education from Brock in 2019, struggle in part because of the Euro-Western content used to assess reading, she says.
“Being able to make connections to the content that are relevant to their cultural experiences is especially important for the reading level at which they can be placed,” Brown-Bell says, adding having no prior knowledge of the content can vastly impact assessments.
“I want to be a part of this movement to include content that is relevant to their culture so they may realize greater success with education,” she says.
Just as Brown-Bell’s work aims to provide the necessary supports to see students of all backgrounds succeed, Brock’s Horizon Scholarship strives to break down barriers that may prevent students from pursuing graduate education, says Suzanne Curtin, Vice-Provost and Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies.
“Our Horizon Scholarship recipients are extraordinary scholars whose experiences and perspectives enhance the research community,” she says. “These exceptional graduate students continue to inspire us all through their work and contributions to campus life.”
Brown-Bell says being awarded the Horizon Scholarship is “one of the biggest accomplishments in my education journey.”
“When I received the email advising me that I was a recipient, I wept uncontrollably,” she says. “They were tears of joy.”
The funding has allowed Brown-Bell to remain working in the field focusing on her research, while also helping to support her family.
“This scholarship is helping me to fulfil my education dreams,” she says.
Among this year’s Horizon Graduate Student Scholarship recipients are:
- Sara Adloo, Applied Linguistics master’s student
- Carl Alano, Applied Health Sciences master’s student
- Hana Albqaeen, Education master’s student
- Asude Ayvaci, Applied Disability Studies master’s student
- Denese Brown-Bell, Educational Studies PhD student
- Darrah Condino, Applied Health Sciences PhD student
- Assmaa El Khal, Biotechnology master’s student
- Shannon Fernandes, Sustainability PhD student
- Isabelle Hill, Applied Health Sciences master’s student
- Erin Isaac, Sustainability master’s student
- Ranjith Iyappan, Applied Health Sciences PhD student
- Ben Johnson, Child and Youth Studies master’s student
- Muhammad Idris Khan, Geography master’s student
- Nazanin Mehregan, Computer Science master’s student
- Samita Sarkar, Education master’s student
- Alex Wilder, Biological Sciences PhD student