Sefanit Habtom (left) and Melanie Manitowabi (right).

Sefanit Habtom (left) and Melanie Manitowabi (right).

Embarking on a journey of intellectual discovery

Building on the success of the Pre-Doctoral Fellowships for Indigenous Students launched in 2018, the Faculty of Arts and Science created three new Pre-Doctoral Fellowships for Indigenous Students and three new Pre-Doctoral Fellowships in Black Studies last year.

The successful applicants in Indigenous Studies for 2022-23 were:

  • Johannah Bird (PhD Candidate, English, McMaster University)
  • Melanie Manitowabi (PhD candidate, Education and Sustainability, Nipissing University)
  • Kaitlind Peters (PhD candidate, Curriculum and Pedagogy, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto)

The successful applicants in Black Studies were: 

  • Ifeoluwatari (Tari) Ajadi (PhD candidate, Department of Political Science, Dalhousie University)
  • Sefanit Habtom (PhD candidate, Department of Social Justice Education, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto)
  • Nataleah Hunter-Young (PhD candidate, Communication and Culture, X University & York University)

We caught up with Sefanit and Melanie to find out more about their work during the past year, why academics should apply for these pre-doctoral opportunities, and what the future holds.

“When I saw the opportunity posted, I was thrilled by the chance to be one of the inaugural Post-Doctoral fellows in Black Studies – especially because it was in conjunction with the official launch of the Black Studies Minor.” Sefanit, who called the fellowship the perfect steppingstone into an academic career, says “I knew there was so much to learn from the program.”

Her doctoral project emerged from student organizing she was involved with in Winter 2015 when she co-founded the Black Liberation Collective at the University of Toronto. She became curious about how Black students enact change at post-secondary institutions, and, more importantly, how that work often transcends these institutions to other corners of society. Simultaneously, she became interested in the entanglements between settler colonialism and slavery that founded and continue to structure the Americas, namely, the university. Her research examines Black students organizing in relation to Indigenous lands and communities.

Looking back at the past year, she only has positive thoughts about the program and the support she’s received at Queen’s.

“The faculty mentors and members have been welcoming and offered opportunities for us to showcase our research. Building a community of support with the other Pre-Doctoral fellows was helpful; for example, we had monthly meetings hosted by Elliot Chapple, EDII Director, for current fellows. Also, designing and teaching my own upper-year undergraduate course has been a great asset to my graduate training, preparing me further for my academic career.”

Her group also used WhatsApp to check in with one another, ask questions, share tips, offer encouraging words, and to celebrate one another's milestones. The group chat provided a place of community and care, despite an otherwise difficult transition.

Melanie also talked about her excitement around the possibilities the Pre-doctoral Fellowship for Indigenous Students offered.

“When I learned about the opportunity, I first thought that it was beyond my reach,” Melanie says. “At the time, I did not think that I was ready to explore this new experience. However, as I began to put together my portfolio and think about what my goals were, I then began to become excited about the possibilities that having this experience would give me. I also thought that this was the gentle pressure I needed to complete my dissertation. I was also grateful that there was funding attached to this position as this would alleviate some financial pressures I was faced with as a graduate student.”

In her research, Melanie explores the meaning of innovation with expert Indigenous Early Childhood Educators through the sharing of their lived experiences. The intent of completing her doctorate is to share with communities and scholars the pride, resilience, and resurgence of Anishinaabe ways of being and doing within an Indigenous educational context that comes from a strength-based approach and will eventually contribute to the growing scholarly work in academia.

When asked why she would encourage others to apply for the Fellowship, Melanie says it provided her with a glimpse into the future and helped her focus as an academic.

"This allowed me to see what it is like to hold a faculty position. For me, this also allowed for positive peer pressure to complete my dissertation in a good way. I need deadlines, so for me, I focused this positive pressure to complete my dissertation within the timeframe of the fellowship, so to me this was like an incentive to complete. I would also share that I found teaching a course and presenting my ideas in an academic setting allowed me to become more confident in my area of research as this allowed me to reflect on my work constantly.”

For her personally having a cohort that was in the same situation as her, that she could relate to in many ways, was probably the key takeaway from this experience as was building relationships during this learning journey as they unfolded.

Learn more on the FAS Pre-doctoral Fellowships webpage. The call for applications is now open and everyone is encouraged to attend this week’s Meet and Greet event.