Before Thomas Benjoe graduated in 2011 from the Business program at the First Nations University of Canada (FNUniv), he already had 17 job offers for employment.
Thomas now works for the Royal Bank of Canada as a Commercial Account Manager and Aboriginal Banking Specialist. He is the only Aboriginal Banking Specialist in Saskatchewan. He also works on bringing more Indigenous youth into the business world.
“My education stood out ahead of a lot of other people’s education, because of the First Nations aspect of the education that I earned, my degree in business was focused around First Nations business and First Nations governance,” says Thomas. “By having that First Nations perspective out in the market and to explain that to employers became a better opportunity for me. I had quite the array of opportunities but I associated that back to the experience I had here and the uniqueness of my education that I was able to obtain.”
Dr.Bob Kayseas, Associate Vice-President Academic at FNUniv, says having a business program in general at the university is critical and truly unique.
“The business program tries to take into account all mainstream business topics and disciplines you have: HR, Finance, Accounting, International business, so you have all the various functions of business, but we also take into account the First Nation’s context, which is another whole level of understanding,” says Bob.
Having that Aboriginal perspective and knowledge of unique circumstances Indigenous people encounter on reserve gives business students at FNUniv a real advantage over graduates from other business programs.
“One of the biggest things that it has helped me understand, especially in the business community was how we incorporate culture into business,” says Thomas. “That’s been something that I’ve witnessed here and how things are managed. We try to bring that focus in, so the university has helped bring that culture into a business practice as well.”
Bettina Schneider, an assistant professor in the Business and Public Administration program at FNUniv, also elaborated on the significance of bringing together business and culture.
“Our business program here is incredibly strong and growing quite a bit, [First Nations business] is a critical part of what we do. It’s what differentiates us I think from most business programs in the country,” says Bettina. “We have a number of courses, if not the majority of our courses have some aboriginal content within the courses.”
Though he’s finished his studies, Thomas continues to influence future business students through an entrepreneurship camp, which he helped to start and is held at FNUniv every summer. The camp will be running for the eighth consecutive time in 2016.
Bob Kayseas is also a part of the camp and says that as of this year they will have had over 200 students go through the entrepreneurship program. The camp accepts high school students from grades 10, 11, and 12, houses them for a week, and gives them a peek into the life of a university student.
“One of the things that we are trying to encourage out there in our young people is to try and see entrepreneurship and business as a career option and as an education,” says Bob.
Thomas developed the camp alongside his former professor Richard Missens, a faculty member in FNUniv’s business department, several years ago while Thomas was working for the school of business.
The idea for the camp was to mirror the work of another successful entrepreneurship program. The program was formed by the Business Development Bank of Canada E-Spirit and focused on students from high schools all across Canada, who would compete for prizes in entrepreneurship to develop business ideas.
“There weren’t many students coming from Saskatchewan to participate in that competition, we wanted more of our students from Saskatchewan to participate,” says Thomas. “That’s where the camp kind of got started, I wanted the students to get a sense of what it’s like to be on the university campus, so they sleep in the dorms, they eat the cafeteria food, they learn in the classroom, they’re taught by professors, and they’re able to network with other entrepreneurs and other people throughout the university. What we wanted to do was to make sure those students eventually came to school and chose hopefully the First Nations University and the business program. It’s been quite successful.”