Lecia Ellis is a PhD candidate and international education officer at USask.
Lecia Ellis is a PhD candidate and international education officer at USask. (Photo: Submitted)

Black History Month: USask PhD candidate offers support to fellow international students

Lecia Ellis, a graduate student in the College of Education, is passionate about her job at the International Student and Study Abroad Centre (ISSAC).

By Shannon Boklaschuk

The enthusiasm is palpable in Lecia Ellis’s voice as she talks about her work at the International Student and Study Abroad Centre (ISSAC) at the University of Saskatchewan (USask).

“I love being with the students; that’s just my passion,” said Ellis, an international education officer.

Located in Lower Place Riel on USask’s main Saskatoon campus, ISSAC supports international students during their transition to student life in Canada. The centre is dedicated to fostering a welcoming, globally aware, and inclusive campus community through initiatives and services such as advising sessions, the Global Connections Lounge, and intercultural programming and events. ISSAC also oversees student mobility and exchange opportunities for students.

Ellis relates to the experiences of international students. She moved to Saskatoon from Jamaica in late 2021 and is now a PhD student in educational administration in USask’s College of Education. At the time of her relocation to Canada, one of Ellis’s four children was an undergraduate student at USask. Enrolling at the same university enabled Ellis to pursue her doctoral degree while supporting her daughter, who was experiencing serious health issues related to a brain tumour.

Lecia Ellis is a PhD candidate and international education officer at USask.
Dr. Julia Paulson (PhD), dean of the College of Education, presents Lecia Ellis with an award at the 2023/24 College of Education Academic Awards Celebration on Jan. 19, 2024. (Photo: Connor Jay)

Ellis vividly recalls arriving at Saskatoon’s airport on a frigid, snowy day in November 2021 and stepping outdoors for the first the time. It was a learning experience.

“We, in Jamaica, have never been exposed to snow,” she said. “I said to my daughter, ‘Why is everybody smoking?’ I didn’t realize it was their (breath in the cold air). The coldest we have been in Jamaica is nothing in the minuses—and we call that cold—so it was new to me.”

Shortly after arriving in Saskatoon, Ellis was accepted into the PhD program in the College of Education. She soon began her studies at USask—during the COVID-19 global pandemic—while also supporting her daughter through her health challenges.

It was a difficult time for Ellis, who was far away from her husband and their three other children still living in Jamaica. With no friends or family in Saskatoon other than her daughter, Ellis needed support. She turned to ISSAC, where she connected with international education officer Jordan Hartshorn.

ISSAC quickly made a big difference in Ellis’s life. Hartshorn answered Ellis’s questions about living in Canada as an international student and listened to her concerns about her daughter.

“The support that I got at this office, through Jordan, is why I survived the ordeal,” Ellis said.

Lecia Ellis is a PhD candidate and international education officer at USask.
The International Student and Study Abroad Centre (ISSAC) supports international students during their transition to student life in Canada. (Photo: David Stobbe)

The positive experiences she had at ISSAC inspired Ellis to begin volunteering at the centre as she pursued her PhD. She hoped she could support other international students who had questions or who needed a friend.

“I wanted to be able to give back, because I knew what I received,” she said.

Working with post-secondary students was a natural fit for Ellis, a licensed teacher who earned a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology and human resources at the University of the West Indies, Mona in 2006, and a Master of Science degree in human resources management/personnel administration at the same university in 2009. Ellis also pursued postgraduate studies in education and training at the Vocational Training Development Institute (VTDI) in Kingston, Jamaica, where she later served as the college registrar—a job she enjoyed but had to leave behind when she moved to Canada.

In addition to volunteering at ISSAC, Ellis sought volunteer opportunities at USask’s convocation ceremonies—and was then offered a temporary paid position with the convocation team. That experience led to a temporary paid job working at ISSAC’s front desk, where Ellis served as a first point of contact for international and domestic students coming to the centre.

When Hartshorn went on leave from ISSAC in August 2023 to fill another role at USask, Ellis applied for his vacated job. Ellis was thrilled when she was selected for an interview and was later named the successful applicant. She officially began her international education officer position at ISSAC in October 2023 and is now writing an article reflecting on her work experiences at the centre, titled “From Front Desk to Front Office.”

As she settles into her new role, Ellis is grateful for the warm welcome she has received from students and colleagues, including ISSAC director Charlene Brown.

“Little did I know that I would be the next Jordan—because that’s what I refer to myself as,” she said with a laugh.

Today, more than two years after arriving in Saskatoon, Ellis is thriving as an employee at ISSAC and as a doctoral student in the College of Education, under the supervision of Dr. Michael Cottrell (PhD). She draws upon her own experiences as a newcomer to Canada when she interacts with international students. For example, after noticing that many students are unprepared for the cold Saskatchewan weather, Ellis began collecting socks, jackets, mittens, tuques, and other items to help them feel warm and comfortable during the winter months. She organized a winter clothing drive during the holiday season and partnered with a local thrift shop to bring much-needed clothing items to ISSAC—which the students can now access at no cost.

“I recognize that students come here not able to relate to what cold is, or frigid temperatures,” she said.

Lecia Ellis is a PhD candidate and international education officer at USask.
ISSAC’s Global Connections Lounge is a gathering place at the USask campus in Saskatoon. (Photo: David Stobbe)

Much has changed for Ellis since she first arrived in Saskatoon. Her daughter is now recovering, and her husband and two of their children have relocated to the city—including their 21-year-old daughter, who is currently studying in USask’s College of Arts and Science as she works toward a biomedical sciences degree. Outside of USask, Ellis is busy with extra-curricular activities, such as her 17-year-old son’s soccer games.

Ellis appreciates the ongoing support she receives from her husband, children, co-workers, and fellow students as she pursues her work and academic goals. For example, she has presented at several conferences and has received numerous scholarships and bursaries, including the George and Arlene Loewen Family Bursary at the 2023/24 College of Education Academic Awards Celebration held on Jan. 19, 2024. She also recently completed her doctoral comprehensive examination and is now officially a PhD candidate.

“I’m passionate about education. I’m a life-long learner,” she said. “I am a trained teacher, but my preference is more on the strategic side, so I was attracted to this program—educational administration—because it allowed me to be a part of the planning of curriculum and the planning of lesson plans.”

After she completes her PhD, Ellis dreams of one day returning to Jamaica and serving as the Caribbean country’s minister of education—a job that would align with her love of politics. However, she plans to remain in Canada for the foreseeable future and is focused on completing her PhD thesis, titled “International Graduates’ Workforce Integration in Saskatchewan: The Four Sides of the Story.” As she conducts her research, she shares her learnings with others at USask, including colleagues in the Teaching, Learning, and Student Experience (TLSE) portfolio.

Ellis’s mission is to serve students and to give back to the USask community. In this spirit, she has taken on the role of president of the Education Graduate Student Association. She is also active with the Graduate Students’ Association (GSA), serving on several committees.

“Any of the roles that I take are primarily because I can serve the students,” she said. “I just love it; I really love it.”

February is Black History Month in Canada, and the theme at USask is “Celebrating Black Experiences: Arts, Literature and More.” Throughout the month, Ellis will take part in several speaking engagements on campus, including a Black History Month panel discussion co-hosted by ISSAC and the College of Education. The event, titled “International Graduates’ Workforce Integration in Saskatchewan: Their side of the story,” will take place on Feb. 26 from 12 pm to 1:30 pm in the ISSAC Global Connections Lounge (Room 70, Lower Place Riel). The panel discussion will be a platform for Black international graduates to share their experiences as they seek employment in Saskatoon.

The next day, on Feb. 27, Ellis will participate in a Social Insights series event that will be focused on Black employees in the workforce. It will be held from 4 pm to 5 pm in the USask Community Centre (Room 104, Marquis Hall).

For more about Black History Month at USask, including a list of events, visit spotlight.usask.ca.

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