The Learning Environment

Aahnii, hello! My name is Steven Blake George Baranyai. I was born and raised in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, along with my younger brother Michael and my older sister Christine. My mother's name is Connie. She is an Ojibway woman from Serpent River First Nations on the north shore of Lake Huron. My father's name is George, and he is of Hungarian descent and was born in Budapest, the capital city of Hungary. He and his family had to escape here to Ontario in 1956 during the Hungarian Revolution. While I was growing up, my parents stressed the importance of pursuing an education to my siblings and myself. So, after I graduated from high school in 1996, I enrolled at Mohawk College in Hamilton, Ontario, to earn a diploma in business administration.

Although I am not a science major, I work very closely with science and engineering students due to my natural interest in this area. I recently was elected as the Junior National Student Representative and the Region Six Student Representative for the American Indian Science and Engineering Society ( AISES), and I am currently serving as vice president of the Brock University AISES Student Chapter.

AISES is a nonprofit organization that serves to build a bridge between science and traditions while helping American Indian students become both self-reliant and determined members of society. This is my personal testimony about my pursuit of a college degree and how AISES provides support to nonscience majors like me.

Getting Started

My mother and father helped me tremendously to prepare for my college experience. In July 1996, my Dad and I drove down to Hamilton to find a place for me to live. We looked in the local newspapers and found an advertisement for student housing near Mohawk College. I was moving in with a childhood friend from Toronto. My friend met us in Hamilton, and together we found a basement apartment. We decided to move to our new place in the fall. On Labour Day weekend, my parents drove me to the apartment in Hamilton with all of my stuff (clothes, stereo, guitars, amplifier, and my tapes and CDs). In addition, they had bought me a lot of school supplies to start the year off right.

Everything went fine for the first semester--or so I thought. Looking back, I realize that I did not devote myself to my schoolwork as much as I should have. Instead, I was having a good time out at some bar or with some new friends I had met; anything but schoolwork. I felt I was paying enough attention in class to pass. But, I found myself cramming like crazy at exam time and barely passing with 60s! I know I could have achieved better grades. My roommate was not so fortunate. He flunked out after the first semester and had to find employment in order to pay for rent and other living expenses. He was one of eight of my 12 friends that failed academically.

After the third semester, the lifestyle I had chosen caught up to me, too. I guess I fooled myself into thinking that I could do the minimum requirements in school. But I underestimated the minimum requirements and flunked out as well. My dad was there when I found out. But he wasn't mad at all. He saw how upset I was and very calmly asked me what I was going to do. I answered his question right away by saying that I was going to get back into the program and graduate with that diploma. I had worked in the fast-food industry previously, and I knew without an education that was the only real career choice I had. Thus, through the support of my family and friends, I went to night school and I took the classes over that I failed in order to be reinstated in the program and graduate.

A Helping Hand

I know that I would not have had the courage to retake those failed courses without the encouragement of the Aboriginal Student Advisor at Mohawk College. She was a wonderful person who really listened to all of the students. We had an Aboriginal Student Lounge where we sat around with friends doing our homework or group assignments, using the computers, or just talking. There was a lot of laughing too. All the people I met there were great. During one of my frequent visits to the lounge, I noticed an ad for a job tutoring 5 hours per week. I applied for the position and was hired. This turned out to be great experience for me. Several students would come in, and together we usually completed the task at hand and solved most of the problems. After all my experiences, I was finally able to help others! In addition, a couple of other students and myself were hired to help in the annual Native Secondary Students' Orientation Day to the college. We gave tours and helped organize the event and hand out prizes.

Making Plans and Making Moves

Everything was now working out well for me academically and professionally. I had shifted my focus from having fun and started to rethink my initial academic goals. I no longer wanted to complete my education with a diploma. I wanted to go even farther. I felt I needed to learn more to reach my future goals. In addition, things were also changing for me socially. I met Cindy, my future wife, in Hamilton. She was in a recording arts program, and upon graduating, we soon realized that we had similar goals and interests. We both looked for a school that would allow me to transfer and my wife to pursue an education as a teacher. Brock University was a perfect fit for us! I continued to perform well academically at Brock, and as a result of my academic achievements, I was awarded a $2000 bursary in my first year from the Foundation for the Advancement of Aboriginal Youth. I was able to buy us a computer to help us through school.

It was at Brock University that I became officially involved with AISES, which was also instrumental in helping me pursue my education. When I arrived at Brock University I went directly to the Aboriginal Student Advisor to introduce myself and to find out what was going on at Brock. I wondered if it was similar to the Aboriginal Student Services at Mohawk College. The adviser and I hit it off right from the start. This was perfect timing again, because the adviser was looking for an Aboriginal Programming Coordinator. I applied for the position and was hired as an assistant to the adviser in aiding in the development of aboriginal student activities on campus. Together, we started an Aboriginal Big Drum Group open to all people on campus and in the community. The drummers and singers in this group built a sweat lodge that we all use frequently for cleansing. We had a gathering place constructed on campus that is decorated with Native art and teachings. This room is open to everyone to enjoy and learn something about our cultures. I also took the initiative to occupy a student representative seat on the Brock University Aboriginal Education Council.

The AISES Connection

The aboriginal adviser had been a member of AISES since her university years in Buffalo, New York, and she had been trying to start a chapter at Brock since 1999. She introduced me to the AISES organization, and before I knew it, I was attending my first Regional Conference at Cornell University.

I was amazed at what AISES stood for. As a business administration major, it might seem odd that I chose to be a part of a science and engineering society. I did so because when I started to look closely at the world we all live in, I saw philosophies in conflict. Western philosophy seemed rooted in the concept that we are above the web of life and can control and use it to suit our desires, whereas indigenous philosophies centered on the fact that we are a part of the web of life with a responsibility to care for it; what we do to this web, we do to ourselves. My sense is that AISES is an organization that teaches students this latter philosophy naturally because it is natural to the native way. So, I wanted to get involved with AISES and help American Indian future scientists and engineers realize this. These future scientists and engineers may one day unlock the scientific, engineering, and technological answers we need to fix the problems created by previous generations. I see a great importance in communicating that we are taught science through the eyes of a dominant culture and that this culture's perspective is not the only one. In my opinion, traditional values and practices are sciences too and are just as important. There is a gap between the two that has been created over time that we now must begin to bridge. This means restoring our knowledge of spirit, our ability to feel with true heart, and ultimately striving for a triangular balance of mind, body, and spirit.

The Importance of Vision

As a business student, I have learned to see the importance of a vision, a mission, and goals. I differ from other classmates because I lack the desire for financial gain. I have learned how to communicate ideas and how to work with people to keep the driving force alive behind a shared vision. This why I wanted to become an AISES Student Representative, to prove to myself that my heart's longing is true and attainable. There are a growing number of nonscience and engineering students within AISES because AISES strives to support the hopes and dreams of future generations of American Indians regardless of their curriculum or career path. The staff and board of directors of this nonprofit organization strongly believe in the students. They all help align the vision, mission, and goals to nurture the building of community by building bridges between traditional native values and science and technology. AISES encourages both personal and academic growth in order to bring one's ideas into the world with confidence.

In conclusion, you should remember that having fun is great, but there is a time and place for everything. During your college or university career, you have to remember your priorities. Frequently ask yourself, "Why am I here?" My answer to that question was to get an education and prepare myself to continuously learn how to help our people. I am constantly reminded of the horrible past of our ancestors and the symptoms of genocide that still affect our lives today. I have the desire to give back. My wife and I are having the most wonderful experiences, and we are learning so much. Everything that has happened to us has been very beneficial. Now with our continuous thanks and strong faith in the Creator's work we will see where the future will take us. Chi Miigwetch!

*Biosketch. Steven Baranyai earned his diploma in business administration from Mohawk College. He is currently pursuing an honors bachelor's degree in the same field at Brock University. After completing his bachelor's degree, Baranyai plans to earn a master's degree in social justice. He enjoys his role as Junior National Student Representative for AISES. For further information, please e-mail Baranyai at

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