Indigenous scholarship helps mom pursue law degree
$8,000 BC Hydro award provided 'flood of relief' in home stretch at TRU
Final law exam on a Friday. Full-time work the following Monday. And a second child on the way.
A rolling Krystal gathers no moss.
"I haven't even posted it on social media yet that my husband and I are expecting a second child in September," gushes Krystal McKay, during a break in her work day, and just a few days after that last law exam at Thompson Rivers University (TRU) in Kamloops. "So while I get my law degree in June, I'll have to delay my articling until next spring or summer."
A long-time legal assistant who first went back to school to become a paralegal, McKay took the plunge toward a law degree back in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic didn't stop her, nor did her husband Dave's health issues that left him temporarily unable to work as a mechanic.
McKay was overjoyed to be given credit by TRU for her 15-plus years of experience working at law offices, most recently with Qwelmínte Secwépemc that represents eight Secwépemc Nations in negotiations with government. That meant she could get her law degree in three years. But an $8,000 Randy Brandt Memorial Award in 2022 – the largest of BC Hydro's annual Indigenous scholarships and bursaries – was also pivotal.
"That scholarship came at a really good time," says McKay, a proud member of the Fort St. James-area Nak'Azdli Whuten First Nation. "I remember telling one of my schoolmates how the stars literally aligned, because at the time, it was stressful financially. It was like a flood of relief because I was in the home stretch."
McKay's story might serve as inspiration to others considering applying for BC Hydro Indigenous scholarships and bursaries, which support students in trades, diploma, and degree programs that are related to the work BC Hydro does. Maintaining and expanding the electrical system has impacts on the lives and interests of Indigenous peoples, and education and training opportunities support our efforts toward lasting reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.
Applications for 2023 scholarships and bursaries are open through June 9, 2023. They're available to Indigenous students from B.C. First Nations or who are an Indigenous permanent resident of B.C. studying at an accredited post-secondary institution in a program that matches a career at BC Hydro.
See the full 27-student list of 2022 recipients [PDF, 2.2 MB]
'Take the leap, do the thing'
Raised in Chilliwack, McKay thought her formal education had ended after she earned paralegal certification and plunged herself into work at a family law practice in the Fraser Valley. But she was given the suggestion that her experience, strong enough that she often gave advice to articling lawyers, could lead to bigger and better things.
"I popped in to say hi to one of the lawyers from the very first firm I worked and he asked 'Why aren't you a lawyer yet?'," she recalls. "I told him 'I can't go to school for seven years'. He said that I didn't need to have a degree, that I can challenge it on the basis of my education and work experience."
And he was right. TRU fast-tracked her law degree, and she landed a summer internship with Qwelmínte Secwépemc that allowed her to also work part-time during her last year of law school. Qwelmínte Secwépemc is an Indigenous organization that represents First Nations in negotiations with the provincial government around issues such as forestry, resources, and land use.
She's back working with them now, and after taking a maternity leave, hopes she can article there before taking the bar exam sometime next year.
"Everything's going really well where I work, and I really enjoy working with First Nations communities," she says. "I also work closely with one of the eight Bands we represent, and directly with their Chief and council. I'm hoping that once I pass the bar exam and become a lawyer, I can continue this work, and possibly directly with one of the Bands."
She's also a mom – her son Corbin is now 9 – and she has been a frequent volunteer for a variety of organizations including the Salvation Army and the Terry Fox Foundation. Shortly after her son was born, she realized how complicated it can be to install and use a child car seat properly, so she earned certification as a child passenger safety technician and worked as a volunteer with the RCMP, educating parents at roadside stops and safety clinics.
Her advice for anyone who thinks there are too many hurdles to getting an advanced education? She pretty much summed it up in a social media post she sent after last exam.
'That feeling you get when you submit your VERY LAST exam of law school...
"If you told me 1,230 days ago when I said: 'maybe I should go to law school', that I would feel THIS right now, I would tell you I couldn't fathom the amount of pride and the sense of accomplishment I feel. Not only did it require a huge amount of support, it had immense life impacts on my family, lots of financial stress, and many big decisions along the way. ...
"If I can say anything to you, take the leap, do the thing, you never know what you can accomplish if you just take the step."