In News & Blog, Peer Profiles, SCI BC News

This fall, the transition back to school came with an added bonus for 11 British Columbians with spinal cord injuries. Thanks to the first-ever Gragopean Scholarships, post-secondary students in disciplines ranging from engineering, law and psychology, to aviation and baking, were awarded more than $83,000 to pursue their educations—and for many, their lifelong dreams. Here’s why these inaugural Gragopean Scholarships are just the beginning.

A Learning Legacy: New Gragopean Scholarships award $83,000 to 11 post secondary students with spinal cord injuries
Photo: Tuttle

It’s never too early, or too late, to invest in education. Earlier this year, the Vancouver Foundation and Spinal Cord Injury BC (SCI BC) formed a partnership to administer the Gragopean Scholarship. The new Gragopean Scholarship Trust—established at Vancouver Foundation with a request that SCI BC manage the application and recommendation process—aims to promote the advancement of education of persons with a spinal cord injury in the Province of British Columbia and to in turn benefit the community as a whole.

2018 was the inaugural year for the Gragopean Scholarships and just over $83,000 was awarded to eleven worthy individuals attending BC post-secondary schools. The awards covered tuition and text book expenses and also supported a gamut of additional supplemental costs including transportation, research assistance and private pilot training. Not all the funds available were distributed, and Vancouver Foundation and Spinal Cord Injury BC are hopeful that the application response will grow in years to come.

Congratulations to the 2018 Gragopean Scholarship Trust recipients:

Tomas Bourassa

Now studying Mechatronics Systems Engineering at Simon Fraser University, Tomas was injured in a biking accident at just nine years old. While in high school, Tomas helped build a competitive robotics team and his teachers have given high praise for his determination, strong work ethic and problem solving ability.

Daniel Duffy

Dan was injured in a diving accident while on vacation out of country, necessitating a change to his construction profession. He is known to be hard working, focused and driven – all qualities that are important when learning to live with a spinal cord injury and to succeeding in education. Dan is now in his first year at Langara College.

Emily De Boer

Emily has a passion for education and a dream to help people one day as a civil and human rights lawyer. Following an accident in 2011 necessitating her use of a wheelchair, Emily has become a great athlete and an accomplished speaker—all before her 18th birthday. She is now attending Kwantlen Polytechnic University taking general studies, with big plans for her future.

Jessica Kruger

Jess is the first student in a wheelchair to be accepted to the Baking & Pastry Arts Program at Vancouver Community College—and those who have sampled her “homework” enthusiastically vouch for her outstanding abilities. She is also an accomplished wheelchair athlete, an excellent speaker, and highly regarding member of the SCI community.


“When I first applied for Pastry School there was a small ember of excitement but it felt like a distant dream that might never come to fruition,” says Jess. “Nearly a year and a half later I was accepted and now here I am, a fully fueled fire of excitement, fortunate enough to wake up every day and know that I am going to spend it doing something that I really truly love.


“I can not begin to express my gratitude enough to the Gragopean Scholarship and SCI BC for eliminating the financial barriers and allowing me to remain fully focused on obtaining the highest level of education possible for an industry that is constantly changing and teaching us new skills and techniques. I think that my presence in the program has served to be an eye opener in the best of ways for not only my classmates, but also my teachers and the administration—living with a spinal cord injury does not limit us, it challenges us to be inventive and to work harder; it teaches us to forget the word no, and learn the phrase ‘I will find a way’. I think that this mentality is what is allowing me to succeed in the program thus far.”

Nelson-Keith Jewer

Injured in a motor vehicle accident, Nelson graduated from high school in Prince George and is now attending the University of Northern BC, studying psychology. He is a proficient writer and enthusiastic about his chosen career path, which he hopes will enable him to help others overcome challenges such as he’s experienced.

Fiona Ma

Fiona is in her third year of the five year Bachelor of Nursing Sciences at BCIT. She helped establish the BCIT chapter, a national network of mental health advocates, and serves as club president. Despite the workload of a nursing education and managing her own disability, Fiona also holds two part-time jobs. She hopes to work with pediatric patients following her graduation and no doubt be a tremendous asset to the profession.

Riley Martin

Riley grew up in the South Okanagan area and was injured in a motor vehicle accident. A successful wheelchair athlete, he serves as treasurer on the board of the BC Wheelchair Basketball Society and also gives back to his community as a director of the Highway to Healing Support Society. Having completed a B.A. in Business Administration, followed by a Master’s Degree in the same discipline, Riley is now enrolled in his first year of the Juris Doctor of Law program at the University of Victoria. “This [award] truly will make an incredible difference in my life,” says Riley.

Pierce Pineau

A resident of Abbotsford, Pierce is pursuing a B.A. in Business and Aviation at the University of  the Fraser Valley, while at the same time working toward obtaining his private pilot’s license. His injury has changed his life, but he remains focused on his aspiration to one day become an air traffic controller. “I would like to thank you for choosing me as the recipient of the Gragopean Scholarship Fund,” says Pierce. “Thank you so much for your generous contribution to my education at the University of the Fraser Valley and the pursuit of my dream into aviation.”

Barbara Schober

Despite facing major physical challenges due to her spinal cord injury, Barbara is continuing on her path toward a Doctorate of Philosophy in History at UBC. She is a highly intelligent, entrepreneurial and determined individual who is considered by her supervisor as one of the strongest PhD candidates he has encountered.

Robert Shaw

A spinal cord injury in 2011 has not inhibited Rob’s impressive post-secondary career. With an undergraduate degree in Physical and Health Education, he is now pursuing his PhD in Kinesiology at UBC, earning very high grades. Rob is a champion wheelchair tennis player and has contributed to the SCI community as a peer mentor. He recently represented Canada at the United Nations as part of the federal government’s commitment to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Rob aspires to a future career with a Canadian disability organization.

“I can’t thank [the committee] enough for selecting me for this award,” says Rob. “Having SCI BC in my corner during my studies means a lot as it is an organization I hope to work with after I complete my PhD.”

Holli Vander Wyk

Holli lives with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), which has similar limitations to that of spinal cord injury. She is pursuing a B.A. in History at UBC Okanagan, after which she plans to enter the education program and have a career as an elementary school teacher. She is an enthusiastic community volunteer and has provided outstanding peer support to young children affected by SMA.

Interested in applying for the Gragopean Scholarships next year? Keep an eye on SCI BC’s scholarships and bursaries page for more details in Spring of 2019. 

Recommended Posts
  • Mary Kruger

    Congratulations to all the recipients! What a worthwhile cause. Good luck in your journeys!

Start typing and press Enter to search