The University of Winnipeg



Celebrating the inaugural graduates of the Developmental Studies Program

A group of women wearing ribbon skirts, standing in a semi circle.

Pam Spence with baby Della, Ida May McDonald, Flora Cromarty, Elizabeth Keeper-Garson, Connie Taylor, Victoria Antsenan, Leanne Lavallee, Vivian Scott, Lianna Wanbdiska, Lesli Fenner, Alvina Gegwetch, Twyla McKay, Michelle McNabb, Corinne Whiteway, Vanessa Henry and Rose Albert. Photo by Madison Young

This Spring Convocation The University of Winnipeg celebrates the inaugural students from the first Indigenous cohort for the Developmental Studies Program whose journey began in the fall of 2020. These committed Indigenous women overcame significant challenges, including the repercussions of the pandemic.

Nine of these future graduates are Indigenous community matriarchs from as far north as Lac Brochet and Split Lake in Northern and rural Manitoba, who came to Winnipeg on Wednesday, May 1, 2024 to celebrate with their colleagues from the city.

It has been an honor to work with this incredible group of experienced educators and I am so happy that we are celebrating their hard work.

Dr. Sheri-Lynn Skwarchuk

To mark this historic occasion, the future graduates were joined by Manitoba Chief Cathy Merrick, Minister of Advanced Education and Training Renée Cable, UWinnipeg President Dr. Todd Mondor, UWinnipeg Provost and Vice-President, Academic Dr. Pavlina Radia, Associate Dean of Education, Lesley Eblie-Trudel, Dean of Education Laurie-Ann Hellsten, and Knowledge Keeper Ken Paupanekis.

In 2019, Directors from Manitoba Aboriginal Head Start first approached UWinnipeg’s Director of Developmental Studies Dr. Sheri-Lynn Skwarchuk, to address their needs. They wanted a program to build on the foundation of their early childhood education with Indigenous course content to help them obtain a university degree.

Since then, a joint endeavor was created between the Aboriginal Head Start on Reserve Program and UWinnipeg, with travel costs covered by some Band offices across Manitoba. Students attended courses online and textbooks were mailed to students at the start of each course, and summers were spent on campus with in-person coursework. 

“It has been an honor to work with this incredible group of experienced educators and I am so happy that we are celebrating their hard work,” shared Dr. Skwarchuk. “With the pandemic, limited Internet access, and so many traumas and tragedies amongst the group, they have persevered to meet their education goals.”

Vivian Scott, band councillor from Pimicikamak (Cross Lake), and one of the graduating students, is a leader in her community and spokesperson for the group. She helped to establish the cohort and found the program has given her confidence and the tools to advocate for her people.

“This cohort gave us an opportunity to reflect, learn, and make memories,” shared Scott. “It is finally sinking in that we are graduating in June!”

Those interested in learning about the Developmental Studies program in Early Childhood Education, or joining a new Indigenous cohort for the program, can email Dr. Skwarchuk at

Media Contact