From Struggling Student to Empowered Change Maker

VIU Master of Business Administration alum Tasha Brooks was joined at her Convocation ceremony in January by her internship supervisor, VIU Cowichan Academic Administrator Warren Weir. She hopes to return to VIU as a professor after she finishes grad school.

July 26, 2017 - 2:15pm

How Tasha Brooks found her passion through VIU’s MBA Program and is making a difference in her community

Ten years ago, Tasha Brooks found herself begging Santa Claus for a C+ in accounting so she could continue in Vancouver Island University’s (VIU’s) Bachelor of Business Administration program.

Fast forward to today, and Brooks has just finished her dual Master of Business Administration and Master of Science in International Management degree from VIU, during which she played an important role in advancing Indigenous education initiatives at the University. She’s now getting ready to start her Doctorate of Business Administration with the help of a $16,000 scholarship from the Royal Bank of Canada’s Aboriginal Student Awards Program.

What happened in between has been “nothing short of amazing,” says the quiet, self-assured 33-year-old, who plans to continue the research she started in her MBA internship as first a PhD student and then a university professor.

Business was not Brooks’s favourite subject in high school. Instead, she wanted to go into esthetics. After working in a salon for a short time, she quickly realized that a career in that field wasn’t for her.

“My parents suggested I do a business program instead,” remembers Brooks. “I didn’t really know exactly what I wanted to do – just what I didn’t want to do.”

Brooks turned to VIU for answers. The first year of her BBA degree was one of the hardest years of her life.

“I locked myself in my room for six hours a day, studying accounting,” she remembers. “By Christmas, I was considering my career options for when I dropped out. Irrationally, I went to the mall to see Santa that year and said to him, ‘If I get a C+ in accounting, I will never ask for anything again!’”

Brooks got a B- and pressed on, completing first her BBA in 2011 and then returning in 2015 to do her master’s. In between the two degrees, she got a job as a post-secondary advisor for Cowichan Tribes, through which she helped people access education. The role also helped her develop a deep connection with her Indigenous roots, as her mother is from Cowichan Tribes.  During this time, she also developed an interest in economic development, completing the Technician Aboriginal Economic Developer certificate from the Council for the Advancement of Native Development Officers (Cando). 

These experiences led to an internship opportunity during the final year of her MBA that steered her on her current course. Brooks went to the University’s Cowichan Campus – where she had sent many students during her time as post-secondary advisor – to investigate ways to make the campus even more relevant and welcoming for Indigenous learners. A $2,000 National Indigenous Economic Education Fund scholarship helped sustain her through the 16-week internship.

For the internship, Brooks interviewed faculty at the Cowichan Campus and moderated group discussions about how to better support Indigenous learners at the campus. She wrote up her findings and recommendations in a report that Campus Academic Administrator Warren Weir, who was also her internship supervisor, will use to inform a strategic education plan for the campus.

“We endeavour to ensure that the Indigenous voice is reflected in everything we do, in a good way, which is critical to the Indigenous commitment highlighted in VIU’s 2017 Academic Plan update,” says Weir. “Through a series of campus-based focus groups and interviews, Tasha was open to listening and hearing what people thought we could do better, and she acknowledged that people were committed to making a difference in this regard. Her work at the campus was transformative for not only the people she spoke with, but also for herself.”

Brooks was blown away by how open faculty and staff were with her, and some common visions emerged, including the desire for a gathering place specifically for Indigenous students on campus, similar to the one on the Nanaimo Campus.

“Everybody was very welcoming and eager to share information. The ideas just kept on rolling out,” she says.

The position required Brooks to delve into the history of Indigenous education, a major piece of which was the residential school system. She also attended the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples’ 20th anniversary conference in Winnipeg to further her understanding of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s recommendations for educational institutions.

“It was definitely a test of my limitations – I was dealing with some heavy subject matter and managing my own workload and schedule, so I had to learn those skills quickly,” says Brooks. “I had a good support system throughout, from my teachers, who sat with me until I understood and truly wanted me to succeed, to my mom, who was there to pick me up and keep me going every time I said I was quitting.”

At graduate school, Brooks is interested in studying the social impacts of increased access to education, and hopes to conduct research that will benefit Cowichan Tribes and Indigenous people as we move to build capacity. Her end goal is to become a professor at VIU.

“I’d like to focus on Indigenous business education,” she says. “I feel like this place is where I can make a difference and do more for my community.”



Jenn McGarrigle, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University

P: 250.740.6559 | C: 250.619.6860 | E: | T: @VIUNews

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