Wikwemikong High School grad wins engineering award

Skylar Manitowabi was recently honoured by the Ontario First Nations Technical Services as the inaugural recipient of the Robert Olivier Memorial Award. Mr. Olivier’s widow, Sharon Down, made the presentation during a ceremony held at the annual Student Classic Golf Tournament.

SIMCOE – Wiikwemkoong’s Skylar Manitowabi has recently been honoured by the Ontario First Nations Technical Services Corporation (OFNTSC) as the inaugural recipient of the Robert Olivier Memorial Award at its annual Student Classic golf tournament on September 15 at The Greens at Renton in Simcoe.

“It means a lot, knowing that there are other communities outside my own community that are supporting students and their post-secondary studies. It was really encouraging and motivating to have that kind of support outside the home community that I’m from,” said Mr. Manitowabi.

OFNTSC is an organization that offers technical and advisory services for Ontario First Nations and has offices in Toronto, Thunder Bay and Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation. This award is brand new for 2019 and Mr. Manitowabi has the honour of being the first to accept it.

Mr. Olivier, who died in February of this year, was the first Indigenous student to graduate from engineering at the University of Windsor. He worked as a civil engineer for 25 years and he volunteered for two years in South Africa. His eight years supporting the Ontario First Nations Technical Services Corporation were dedicated to improving living conditions in First Nations.

OFNTSC distributes three student scholarships worth $2,500 each and this new award is worth $5,000. They are given to First Nations students in post-secondary education who are studying science or engineering, with the goal that the funding will help them complete their studies.

The Robert Olivier Memorial Award is given out in memory of Mr. Olivier’s work in the water and wastewater engineering field specifically and winners receive a plaque and a paid trip to accept the award.

Mr. Manitowabi graduated from Algonquin College’s construction engineering technician program last year. The 24-year-old is now finishing his final year at McMaster University’s civil engineering infrastructure program.

“As a child I really liked working with my hands. I had a lot of Lego sets, I liked building stuff and seeing what I was working on come together,” said Mr. Manitowabi. He said he had multiple family members who have worked on major infrastructure projects at home and overseas, which also served as a major inspiration.

This is far from the first recognition for Mr. Manitowabi. He received the Tony Mandamin Scholarship through Hydro One two years ago, an award that shares many of the same criteria as the Robert Olivier Memorial Award. 

Wikwemikong High School guidance counsellor Jillian Peltier said she was proud that he’s still doing well and persevering, just as he demonstrated as a student in the school before his 2013 graduation.

“Skylar was at school every day. He worked hard and set achievable but high goals for himself. He was one of our top students,” she said. Ms. Peltier previously nominated Mr. Manitowabi for a Schulich Leader Scholarship, an award for the top STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) student in a high school graduating class.

Mr. Manitowabi’s advice for those trying to figure out their future life path was to think about their natural interests and not feel rushed into starting post-secondary education right away.

“Try to find a program that really suits your abilities, your skills and what you’re good at. It’s alright to take a year off to figure it out. When I first started I jumped from high school to college and I didn’t have a big transition space. I got hit hard with all the stresses of school and post-secondary life,” he said.

Mr. Manitowabi has spent the past few summers working for the National Research Council of Canada in the area of research and development and innovation, completing a fair amount of lab work while testing construction materials. 

“Down the road, I really want to work and still get my hands dirty,” said Mr. Manitowabi.

He said after he graduates from McMaster he is considering applying to a masters program in fire safety or structural engineering.