Commitment and support pay off in convocation celebration

SAIT grad overcomes struggle with grades to finish strong with award-winning capstone project.

A combination of her own creativity, her dad’s interest in construction, a great Open House experience and a beautiful campus is what first brought Josie Kootenay to SAIT.

Two years later, she’s graduating from the Architectural Technologies program.

But Kootenay is the first to admit her journey wasn’t all smooth sailing. From a laundry list of life skills to lifelong friendships, from lessons learned to an award earned, she’ll be taking more than memories with her after convocation on Thursday, June 17.

From struggle to support

“When I started at SAIT, I was brand new to everything — straight out of high school and new to Calgary,” says Kootenay. “I didn’t have a tech background and I knew nothing about computers.”

Throughout first year, she was surprised how well she was doing, despite some moments of struggle. Then something changed in third semester — and it wasn’t just the pandemic.

“When I started to realize other people had the background I didn’t, I felt behind. I became less interested and my grades started to slip,” she says. “I don’t blame the pandemic, it was really a me thing. With assignments and deadlines and trying to keep up with everyone, I think I lost my confidence.”

Between feeling like she wasn’t working as hard and being shy and a bit embarrassed, reaching out to her instructors didn’t feel like an option. By Christmas, Kootenay told her parents she wanted to quit.

In the mix, she noticed a new name popping up in her inbox every now and then — Allyson Dennehy, a student advisor from SAIT’s Chinook Lodge Resource Centre.

“She was checking in, and I remember thinking it was nice that she cares. In the end, she helped me so much — even with things that had nothing to do with SAIT. She was so easy to talk to and I’m really thankful.”

With added encouragement from her parents to stick it out, she made a commitment to finish her program. Kicking off her final semester, she even asked for help from an academic coach, Joe Hudson.

“Meeting with Joe, he didn’t just tell me to do my homework, he was someone to talk to and he encouraged me a lot. He even connected me to another student in the same boat who ended up being in my class. Then the three of us started meeting every week,” she says. “Just having people to talk to was a big deal.”

Capping things off

With a new attitude and a growing support system, Kootenay focused on her capstone project to really turn things around.

“I’m not saying having a bad semester was good, but I think the timing was good. Fourth semester is your capstone, and you make it your own,” she says. “I made my capstone project more personal by basing it on Indigenous practices.”

Choosing a minimalistic design with a focus on preservation and respecting the land, Kootenay’s final project is a custom single-family home called Askiwi — meaning “of the earth” in Cree. The design includes two teepee-shaped bedrooms and was inspired by the Tsuut’ina Nation 145 reserve.

“I worked a lot with my instructor, Marc Bussiere, on the design at the beginning. He was really supportive and also invested in the idea,” she says. “The project is really what got me excited again. It was something I could talk to people about, and by talking, they got to know me and I got to know them.”

In May, Kootenay was told her project took first place in the BILD Calgary Region Annual Student House Design Competition.

SAIT grad overcomes struggle with grades to finish strong with award-winning capstone project.
SAIT student Josie Kootenay’s final capstone project is a home design called Askiwi — meaning “of the earth” in Cree.

You don’t have to be an A student to succeed

Looking to the future, Kootenay is weighing her options between work and continuing her education.

Either way, having based her winning design on Indigenous practices, she’s interested in exploring that further.

“I learned so much about my culture through designing my house and I want to learn even more,” she says.

If it’s back to school, she’s happy to take the lessons she learned both inside and outside the classroom and use them.

“I’m really hard on myself, but I’ve learned you don’t have to be an A student to succeed.”

She’s feeling equally prepared to face a board meeting and connect with people in the workplace thanks to her instructors.

“Looking back at my grades in third semester, I’m not happy. But to go from that to my project to winning the BILD competition is really rewarding. I was nervous about my grades. But in the end, I think I did more than graduate.”

“I’m an architectural technologist. Me. And that feels pretty cool.”

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