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First member of Westbank First Nation has earned a doctorate

WFN's first doctorate

Okanagan College's Director of Student Services, James Coble, is the first member of the Westbank First Nation (WFN) to earn a doctoral degree.

Coble who crossed the stage at the University of Calgary, says there was no greater emotion than setting a positive example for his two children.

“For me, it was the completion of a seven-year journey,” says Coble. “At the end, as I did at every stage, I reminded myself that my kids were always at the top of the list of reasons why I was doing this.”

Coble graduated at the end of 2019 from UofC's Werklund School of Education, with a Doctorate of Education. His two children were not the only ones celebrating this accomplishment. 

“On behalf of Westbank First Nation, I am honoured to congratulate Dr. James Coble," says Westbank First Nation Chief Christopher Derickson. "I think it’s very fitting that the first doctoral degree earned by one of our members is a Doctor of Education, and you would be hard pressed to find a more dedicated educator and advocate for students pursuing their higher education goals than James."

For Coble's doctoral research, he decided to showcase three Indigenous students' post-secondary experiences through a method called 'photovoice' which is a research method that uses photography and group dialogue often for marginalized individuals to communicate their issues and concerns. 

“I’ve always been interested in Aboriginal student experiences and when I came across this method in emerging research circles, I thought it would be the perfect means of enabling students to take charge in telling their stories as authentically as possible," says Coble. 

Coble gave these students cameras to take photos of places, people and things which all impacted them during their time spent in post-secondary. The photos taken were then used as the main focus for discussions.

“We talked a lot together, both in individual and group settings, considering and responding to questions like ‘what story is this photo telling us?’ or ‘how does this represent your unique student experience?,'" he says. 

These students then told their stories through their own words and voices. 

“Storytelling is ingrained in Indigenous cultures across the land, so it made sense to me to empower students to think about and share their experiences through stories. My role was simply as listener at first, and then later, I worked with them to re-story their experiences. It was all about respecting the individual, honouring their voice and perspective. It was very important to me to stay true to their reasons for sharing their stories and to recognize each as unique, discreet, and rooted in context,” says Coble.

Before accepting his doctoral degree, Coble earned a bachelor's degree in education and a master's degree in exercise psychology from the University of Victoria. 

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