Motherhood and MBA: Meaghan McNeill Finds Her Place In Business School At U of M
“It feels weird to focus on myself because for so long, right at the age of 15 and onwards I was raising a child and trying to move a career to support my family. Now, I have time to focus on myself. That's not just getting an education, but doing things I want to do,” Meaghan McNeill beams. She is from Fisher River Cree Nation, with a family which includes first-generation immigrants. She grew up all over Winnipeg, moving once or twice a year and attending many different schools. At 16, she had a daughter and was a young single parent who didn’t graduate from high school. She was struggling financially on welfare and after a childhood in poverty, she was ready to go to work. McNeill was able to enroll in university as a mature student at the age of 21 and turn things around.
She entered an engineering access program participant before transferring faculties to complete her Bachelor of Commerce. She did it through the Indigenous Business Education Partners at the Asper School of business at the University of Manitoba and that’s where she works now. Going to university as a mature student was difficult.
“I didn't get the full university experience that most students get, because I was a single parent. Because I was older, I had a hard time connecting with my peers, because a majority of them were younger,” she recalls. McNeill couldn’t party all the time or be a social butterfly because she had family responsibilities. She also missed out on events, and networking. opportunities to make key connections, exchanges and co-op terms. Now that she’s an MBA student, she’s hoping to make up for lost time.
As she works away on her new credential, she’ll be in class part-time and at her job full-time. While she anticipates she may still have sleepless nights ahead of her, she has a lot of support with a Dean who is supportive of staff, a husband, and an older child who is more independent. She got through her undergrad through coffee and sheer will, later struggling with her mental health until she had to seek help in her third year. Now a staff member, she loves nurturing students, checking in on them and getting to know them better. She wants them to know that if she could get through it, so can they.
What she wants Indigenous youth considering business school to know is that it’s more than owning a business, working in a big firm or being an accountant. “There's a wide variety of different careers that… you can branch off to. You don't have to work for those big companies either,” she explains. She encourages youth to come talk to business school staff and also not to worry if they don’t know what they want to do yet. She didn’t know until her third year, after all. Coming to school, trying a variety of courses and finding out what you enjoy is a valid way to explore, she believes.
One of the most transferable skills she learned in business school was time management. She does event planning and project management and her university experience prepared her to set deadlines, break things down into steps and plan things well. This helps her plan things like Career Exploration Days and the Visionary Indigenous Business Excellence Awards fundraiser for her program.
What keeps her moving forward is a desire to keep growing and also the inspiration that comes from her family. She wants to show her daughter what it looks like to be independent, educated and self-supporting. McNeill comes from a large family with many cousins and she’s the first person to get a degree in her family. She wants to live her life in a way that her young cousins can look up to and to break away from the stereotype of what people think it is to be a young Indigenous mother.
She’s working hard because she’s only left Manitoba twice, to Vancouver and Las Vegas, and she’s looking to change that. “I want to be able to travel and see the world and not just stay in Manitoba… experience different cultures, languages, and different foods,” she explains. Her first stop is South Korea, where there’s a four-week summer program for MBA students.
Travel isn’t her only dream. She and her husband hope to open their own computer engineering firm. He’s completing his degree and they hope to take the tech field by storm as a well-educated couple with big dreams. They want to get international work experience under their belt as part of their plan for success.
One of the lessons she wished she learned sooner was not to let other people judge her worth or take their opinions about what she is capable of to heart. So many people told her she wasn’t going to get an education, that she wasn’t smart enough and didn’t have enough money. Their expectations of her were low and she worked hard to exceed them. McNeill believed she was worth more and could do more than they could ever imagine. “I was just kind of like, ‘screw other people's opinions’. And I tried to better myself and my family,” she recalls.
Now coming out the other side, she’s able to focus on what she wants and where she wants to go from here. After a lifetime of raising her child and trying to make ends meet, she has the space at last to explore what it looks like to move from surviving to thriving, and to show her daughter what that truly means. Beyond getting an education, she’s doing what she wants to do, and after overcoming the world’s stereotypes she in a position to go see more of it.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
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