Cenovus wants to build a better future. In addition to its commitment to being a responsible developer of one of Canada’s most valuable resources, the oil company is hoping to fuel progress by strengthening the communities where it lives and works.
“We want communities to be better off because we are there,” explains Cenovus Community Affairs Advisor, Andrea Ruste. “Part of being a good neighbour is giving back and investing in areas that will ensure a positive legacy.”
Recognizing that education creates a strong foundation for success, Cenovus took a closer look at its Aboriginal Scholarship program two years ago in an effort to formalize the process and increase its value. The revamped program now offers $3500.00 scholarships to 10 Aboriginal students who reside in operating areas and are pursuing a full-time degree, diploma or certified trade. Interestingly, the chosen area of study does not need to link directly to oil sands operations.
“Ultimately, our goal is to encourage Aboriginal students; to increase the number of professionals and role models in our communities; and to further the potential for local employment,” says Ruste. “Be it a teacher, carpenter, nurse or oil and gas specialist, regardless of the program, the community will be stronger.”
Shelby Merchant, was one of 34 eager scholarship applicants who received funding in 2013. In addition to helping to finance her education, the experience eventually led to a Local Community Relations Analyst job with Cenovus at the company’s Christina Lake site in northern Alberta. Merchant now works at the Foster Creek site where she continues to help Cenovus build strong relationships with local stakeholders.
“I was always stressed about my financial situation during university,” says Merchant, 23, who resides on the Kikino Métis Settlement, about 185 kilometres northeast of Edmonton. “When I found out that I got the scholarship, it gave me the support I needed to move forward with my education. Since I could barely afford rent, the scholarship helped me finish my next semester. I finally felt like I could focus on school and not stress about money.”
Over the last few years, the program’s popularity has continued to grow steadily. “In 2014, 54 scholarship submissions were received and this past October, we had interest from 86 applicants,” says Ruste.
In addition to funding new students, Cenovus is demonstrating its commitment to supporting people at every stage of their educational journey. “We want to see people not only pursuing goals but attaining them,” explains Ruste. “Once funded, scholarship applicants are able to apply for continued support right up until the end of their program provided they still meet the eligibility criteria.”
Cenovus is intent on helping northern Albertans succeed. As well as easing the financial burden for prospective post-secondary students, the company continues to invest in school-based programs that build skills and broaden opportunities.
In 2013, $900,000 was donated to Northland School Division No.61. The funding, which is being dispersed over a three year period, is supporting the Division’s Literacy Initiative and Career and Technology Studies (CTS).
“We definitely see literacy as a long-term investment,” says Ruste. “It is a fundamental skill that is a big indicator of graduation rates – something we also really care about.”
With Cenovus’s help, the Division has been able to increase student literacy resources through the incorporation of books with more Aboriginal content, and expand professional and community development opportunities including community literacy nights to ensure the reading bug spreads well beyond the classroom.
“The initiative has seen positive results since it began almost three years ago,” she says “In fact, the number of students reading at grade level in grades 1-8 has increased by 19% since 2013.”
In January this year, 10,000 additional guided reading books were purchased as part of the Literacy Initiative. These books will continue to support children from kindergarten right through to grade eight in the 24 local schools within the Division boundary.
The CTS program is also benefitting from the funding boost. Hands-on career training is much easier with new trailers and kits for schools, field trips, post secondary site visits and additional staff training.
“We know that high school completion rates in this region are a big challenge,” explains Ruste. “The CTS program is helping students connect what they are learning in school with their real life career options. That link is so important for them to be engaged in school, be more likely to graduate and continue on a path to success.”
As a member of the Oil Sands Community Alliance (OSCA), Cenovus is committed to innovative solutions that help to build thriving communities. Together, OSCA members are ensuring continued regional prosperity and community well-being.