Staff Stories: Meet Alexis Okabe

What Nation are you from?

I am a member of the Kitsumkalum First Nation which is a Galts’ap of the Tsimshian Nation.


What is your favourite place on campus?

I like walking around campus a lot. I think my favorite place to go is probably somewhere on the forestry side of campus where there’s a cafe called “Bean Around The World” and there’s a green walk that you can walk through that has a lot of community gardens and you can see what everybody is growing over the year.


What are your favourite Cafeteria on campus?

We tour a lot of the cafeterias on campus just because we’re always in a different area for meetings. And I think that the best cafeteria on campus, bar none, is Orchard Commons. Their ‘Open Kitchen’ is so beautiful, and they have a vegetarian station where you can get vegetarian meals all the time, it’s the best. Second best is Vanier, but that’s just because it’s the closest one.


Can you tell us one thing you love to do when your off work?

When I am off work, I like to go visit trails. I like to walk around in the woods by some of the lakes that we have in BC. I also like to try new restaurants.


What would you like NITEP students to know about you?

I would like NITEP students to know that my office is open, regardless of what you’re after. I think sometimes students will think that the only thing that I can offer support for is academics, but that’s not true! If you are a NITEP student, and you are worried about finances, or you are worried about finding safe residence, or if you’re worried about a mean roommate, I hope you know that you can come to my office and I will share any resources that I have with you. Some other things you might be interested in are some lower cost food options, some other options for housing… anything in the realm of holistic support for you in your education journey. I hope NITEP students know that they can come to me for those things.


What do you like best about being a part of the NITEP?

We’ve done a few of these interviews, and a lot of the faculty and staff say that NITEP feels like family. I think that’s true. One of the things I love most about NITEP is that it feels like a family and that we can rely on each other, problem solving with each other. And we can do some things being a small program which other faculties in programs can’t do, so it’s really nice to be part of an Indigenous-focused program.


What’s the first piece of advice you would give a student who’s considering pursuing a degree at NITEP?

The piece of advice I would give to a student considering pursuing a Bachelor of Education degree with NITEP is to…  speak to NITEP! (laughs) I think a lot of students, especially in grades 10 and 11, don’t know that they can talk to our advising office and say, “Hey, NITEP is something I’m considering in the future, and this is what I’m doing now.” We’d love to talk to you whether you’re in grades 10, 11 or 12. Or if you’re past graduation and you’re looking to come back to school. We want to be able to share with you courses that would increase your chances of admission and extracurriculars that we love to see in our applicants, and we’d love to help you any way that we can as you work towards on your journey to Education.


What do you enjoy most about academic advising?

I think what I enjoy most about being an academic advisor at NITEP is being able to speak to students 24/7. I think I’m fairly lucky to work in a program where I get to hang out with students- I get to work with them on their courses, and their goals, and their part-time jobs and their… just things like decorating their dorm rooms, or things like that. In other programs, I don’t know that a lot of people get to work with students quite so much, and for me, that’s the highlight. So being an academic advisor- it’s working with students, that’s the best part.


Can you tell us one moment you felt inspired by the student?

I’m regularly inspired by NITEP students because I think that education students are uniquely warm, engaging, and excited about post-secondary education. For me, it’s so inspiring for me to have a student who is just so passionate about what they’re doing and where they’re going with their program. Even in really hard times when you have four papers due in the same week and your midterm is next week, NITEPers are still excited and enthused and energetic and ready to meet other cohorts.

A lot of people say that the bachelor’s degree is the worst part of an academic journey because it’s a lot of courses and maybe you don’t love everything. Maybe you’re doing the elementary program and you don’t like the science course that you’re taking, or you don’t like the English literature course that you’re taking, but to power through all those courses and still find something of value in every course that you take… and [then] to bring all of that forward to shaping indigenous education for the better, I don’t think there’s anything more inspiring than that.


Can you talk about your academic journey so far?

Sure, so I grew up in a very small town. My graduation class was 90 students, and I knew that I wanted to go to post-secondary. I ended up going through the Bachelor of Arts program here at UBC Vancouver, and as an Indigenous student, I couldn’t have done it without my band. I think, for me, one of my biggest cheerleaders and supporters was my education coordinator, Charlotte Guno from my nation. She would write me encouraging emails, she cheered me on for every grade that I got, and she used to say things like how proud she was of me. And it was a motivator for me, just as much as my parents’ excitement was. As a sponsored student, and especially now, speaking to so many Indigenous students, I know how lucky I was to have such an amazing Education Coordinator and to go through my degree with that support network.


What strategies did you use to be successful in university?

When I was in university, I researched a lot of strategies for study success because I wasn’t sure what my learning style was, particularly when I first started my program. And I learned that the way that I learn best is through teaching the concept to another person. So, my roommates throughout my university degree can attest that despite the fact that they were not in the English program, they could speak to a lot of the higher-level concepts I was studying because I would ask to explain the concepts to them over and over and over until I felt like I could just teach the whole thing with my eyes closed. So, I guess it’s an okay thing that I work in an education program because I definitely see the value in teaching.


What are the advice and resources you would recommend for helping Indigenous students be successful?

At UBC, there are a number of resources that are offered to Indigenous students for their success. Some of the resources that I would probably recommend are the Indigenous Collegium, which is a great support network for students to be able to join if you need to talk to somebody, [or] if you want to meet somebody in a Science class that you’re taking who’s also Indigenous. I would also recommend resources such as Counselling Services on campus. I think a lot of times, students think that they can’t go to counselling unless an emergency happens to them, but that’s not the case! If you’re wrestling with feelings of insecurity or doubt, or if you are feeling anxious in your program, I hope you know that there’s free counselling available for you through Indigenous Counselling or through Education Counselling. And you can speak to somebody who can help you work through those feelings and ultimately come through with more tools in your tool basket to manage academia in a western environment. I would also recommend the AMS Food Bank if you were feeling low on funds if you want to get some fresh vegetables, and maybe your budget is stretched a little bit too tight until next month… that’s a great service as well.


Since September is just around the corner, a new batch of students are joining NITEP to start their new academic careers, what advice would you give to a first-year student who may be nervous about starting their collegiate journey?

The advice I’d give to a new incoming NITEP student starting their academic journey is to put yourself out there. It’s something we used to say a lot in admissions events like Jumpstart or Imagine Day: just be brave, say something bold, hang out after class, and reach out to the person who sits next to you. You never know where your best friend from university is, whether they’re sitting next to you on the bus or whether they’re sitting next to you in math class. Take chances, raise your hand, and ask questions that are in your head. I promise you, if you were questioning something in your lecture, there are many other people in that class would be exact same question, and they’ll be grateful to you for speaking out. I would caution students against staying in their shells and being kind of remote. University is the time to really put yourself out there and make as many friends as you can from as many different places. You’re in an institution where people are coming here from all over the world, and they’re doing dentistry, archaeology, and architecture. Why not take advantage of all the people who are around you and come out of this after four years, five years, or ten years, however long it takes you, with a bunch of lifelong friends and a lot more knowledge?