Alyssa Nawakayas Award 

The Alyssa Nawakayas Award was created by our Saskatchewan Polytechnic Prince Albert campus Literacy & Adult Education (LAE) faculty and staff in reaction to a tragic event. Alyssa was a shy 22 year-old, a member of the Red Earth Cree Nation who entered the LAE program in early 2016. She was a mother of two toddlers, one with extenuating medical conditions. Cathy Bendle, LAE program head said, “Having a child with medical conditions is what inspired Alyssa to return to school to upgrade with the goal of eventually entering nursing.

On April 29, 2016, Alyssa lost her life to domestic violence. Prince Albert campus LAE gathered donations in her honor for a one-time student award. Upon learning of the award, the Red Earth First Nation matched the initial amount of $500. In honor of Alyssa, the Prince Albert campus LAE established an ongoing $500 award recognizing students who have overcome major challenges to continue in school and pursue their goals for a better life.

“Staff of LAE care passionately about our students, many who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Several have suffered violence and poverty in their past and we are constantly amazed at the perseverance and tenacity shown in pursuing education in order to make a better life for themselves and their children,” said Bendle. “We often noted that awards tend to be aimed at academic prowess and thought it was important to acknowledge the ‘survivors and thrivers’,” she added.

By 2019 enough staff donations accrued to allow the award to double to two separate $500 presentations. That was when Karl and Sandy Nelson of Saskatoon learned of the award and decided to contribute. Four awards are now presented in two ceremonies. Recipients are chosen not by marks or attendance, but on tenacity, leadership and perseverance as viewed by the LAE faculty and staff. 

One of the recipients was Jordan Wolfe. Both Jordan and her husband planned on upgrading at Sask Polytech. Once her husband completed upgrading with LAE and moved on to Correctional Studies, Jordan claimed her turn and enrolled with the career goal of social work. Days before Jordan entered the Grade 12 program, the Wolfe’s 11-year-old daughter, one of their six children, passed away. Although they were devastated, Jordan returned to school. It took a great deal of strength for Jordan to continue with her schooling. Bendle said, “Jordan cited the needs of her children as one of the things that kept her pushing forward and focused on the future.”

Terrance Brittain, a father of eight, was also a recipient of the Alyssa Nawakayas Award. While a full-time student in LAE, Terrance held two jobs: a part-time janitorial job that he worked over the noon hour and after school, along with a full-time night job that lasted into the early mornings. Despite this he had excellent attendance and insisted on carving out time to be with his children. Bendle said, “Terrance overcame a learning disability and continued to persevere in his studies. He had great attendance while working full-time and had an awesome attitude that made him a leader in the classroom.”

When asked how students use the award, Bendle said, “The answer seems to always be the same…pay the bills." She went on to say, “This year, when the nominating instructor and I told two students that they were going to be recipients, they were all smiles and happy tears. It takes a while to sink in. They are usually so overwhelmed.” Bendle added, “We tell the students about Alyssa’s story when they achieve the award.”

Saskatchewan Polytechnic student awards are created to financial support to ease stressors so students can focus on academics. Donations come from across the Sask Polytech community--industry, friends, alumni, faculty and staff. Some awards are established in memory of loved ones, some are program-specific, some have no parameters and are open to any student in need of support.

February 2021



Saskatchewan Polytechnic serves students through applied learning opportunities on Treaty 4 and Treaty 6 Territories and the homeland of the Métis.