When Tiannie Paul crossed the stage on November 3, 2018, the entire audience at the Membertou Trade and Convention Centre rose to their feet in a boisterous standing ovation. Dressed in stunning traditional regalia, Tiannie was named the first Mi’kmaw Woman to graduate from Cape Breton University’s Engineering Diploma program.
“In that moment, I knew that I made my mother proud,” says Tiannie, who was raised by a strong single mother. “I could tell by her reaction. She just cried and cried.”
Tiannie is from Eskasoni First Nation and chose CBU so that she could remain close to home. Being a natural in the fields of math and science, Tiannie discovered that she could help Indigenous communities with issues such as waste water and renewable resources if she pursued a career in engineering.
After enrolling at CBU, the University quickly began to feel like a second home for Tiannie, as she got to know her professors and found her place in the campus community. But things weren’t always easy. “I battle many life-threatening allergies to food products that are common on university campuses,” says Tiannie. “Thankfully, Student Development Officer, Holly McDonald, and Director of Student Affairs, John Mayich, spread the word by placing posters around campus, and in turn helped to keep me safe at CBU.”
Feeling safe and comfortable, Tiannie was able to focus on her studies the way students should feel empowered to. One of her favourite experiences at CBU was getting to build robots with her classmates and battle them against other engineering students.
As an Indigenous woman in a male dominated field, Tiannie admits it was challenging at times to feel accepted and find her place, but she didn’t let that stop her. “We need more Indigenous women in the field of engineering,” says Tiannie. “And I feel very proud to be the first Mi’kmaw woman to graduate from this program and inspire others to enter the field.”
Tiannie is also proud to have been awarded the Irving Shipbuilding Award. Irving Shipbuilding Inc. (ISI) established the award in 2011 with a $500K gift to CBU to support Indigenous students who have financial need and demonstrate academic excellence in the fields of Sustainability, Indigenous Studies, and Business. ISI are building and maintaining ships for the Royal Canadian Navy in Nova Scotia. Tiannie is currently living in Halifax while completing her Environmental Engineering Degree and says the award will lower the pressure of the expense of city-living.
After completing her degree, Tiannie says her ultimate career goal is to help communities in Northern and Western Canada have clean and sustainable drinking water. “After getting some experience away from home, I would like to bring my knowledge back to my Nova Scotia and make clean drinking water accessible to all First Nations communities,” says Tiannie. “Attending CBU has made this goal achievable for me. Without the support from CBU I would not be where I am today – on the path to making a difference in the water industry.”
Tiannie would like to thank her family and friends for believing in her and most importantly, she would like to say Wela’lin to her mother for raising her to be a strong, independent, Indigenous woman. “Without her knowledge and courage,” says Tiannie. “I wouldn’t be here right now.”
We are so proud that Tiannie is a member of the CBU Alumni family and know that she will make an impact both in the community and across the country.