Feb. 13, 2019

Prestigious scholarships unleash student potential and uplift families

Reach of philanthropic support from David Bissett extends beyond financial benefits. Just ask Mikala Dickson
First-year Werklund School of Education student Mikala Dickson is one of five recipients of the David Bissett Award of a $10,000 bursary.

First-year student Mikala Dickson is one of five recipients of the David Bissett Award of $10,000.

Development and Alumni Engagement

The odds of Mikala Dickson beginning her education degree at the University of Calgary last fall seemed, from the outside, abysmally stacked against her.

Starting in Grade 10, Dickson worked 25 hours a week at a dollar store near her home in Brandon, Man. Her dad, on extended medical leave for a heart condition, was unable to contribute to household finances and her mom, a dental assistant, needed consistent help with groceries and bills. Dickson’s younger brother, to whom she’s particularly close, struggled with debilitating anxiety and depression and, in 2016, her best friend committed suicide. They had planned to go to university together.

From a young age, Dickson had dreamed of becoming a teacher. Determined to succeed in spite of significant emotional and financial challenges, she graduated from high school in June 2018 with a 98-per-cent average. In August, she joined her older sister in Airdrie to begin her degree at the Werklund School of Education. Startlingly sunny and open, Dickson was, she says, “absolutely prepared to struggle.” Little did she know help was just around the corner.

Longtime UCalgary supporter David A. Bissett — member of the Order of Canada, recipient of the Alberta Order of Excellence, and the founder of one of Calgary’s most successful investment firms — recently made a gift to establish the prestigious David Bissett Award. The award consists of $10,000 bursaries for five first-year undergraduates, with preference given to supporting Indigenous students; the awards may be renewed in second, third, and fourth year. Through their philanthropic investment and involvement, David and his wife, Leslie, are committed to creating lasting positive change for students, families and the wider community in Calgary and beyond.

Two weeks before starting her courses, Dickson, who is Métis, got the call that she’d won the award. “I couldn’t speak, I just cried,” she says. The scholarship will cover her tuition and fees, and contribute to her living expenses.

“I want Mr. Bissett to know how much this has helped me,” says Dickson. “It changed my outlook — things were very hard for a long time, and I learned to get through one day at a time.” She says that knowing there was “someone out there who was willing help me to take this journey without financial burden” has changed her life.

One of the best calls she’s ever made was to her mom to share the news.

“She actually dropped the phone and it hung up,” says Dickson with a laugh. “She couldn’t believe it — she’d been so worried about how I would manage, and this gave her so much reassurance.”

David Bissett’s gift contributes to UCalgary’s Energize campaign, which is more than 90 per cent of the way to its $1.3-billion goal. The third-largest fundraising initiative in Canadian university history, the campaign fuels excellence in students and research, and strengthens community ties. 

The Energize campaign for the University of Calgary is a transformative fundraising initiative that fuels excellence in student experiences, research outcomes and community connections. Thanks to the generosity of UCalgary’s friends and supporters, we are igniting discovery, creativity and innovation to make lasting positive change at the University of Calgary, in our city and beyond.       

The Energize campaign is more than three-quarters to its overall goal of $1.3 billion. 

ii’ taa’poh’to’p, the University of Calgary’s Indigenous Strategy, is a commitment to deep evolutionary transformation by reimagining ways of knowing, doing, connecting and being. Walking parallel paths together, ‘in a good way,’ UCalgary will move towards genuine reconciliation and Indigenization.