No longer a 'lost cause'. High school underachiver from Fort Erie earns PhD in criminology


By ALISON LANGLEY Niagara Falls Review

An admitted underachiever in high school, a former Fort Erie resident is proving that obstacles can be overcome with hard work and dedication."I didn't do well in high school at all. My grades were very low," Lisa Monchalin recalled with a slight laugh.The 30-year-old doesn't look back at her high school years with fondness."I was thought of as a lost cause," she said.

Flash forward a few years and Monchalin has a number of degrees under her belt and earlier this month earned her PhD in criminology from the University of Ottawa. According to her adviser at the Ottawa school, she's the only aboriginal woman in Canada to earn a PhD in that field. Her thesis was a case study on reducing crime affecting aboriginal people in Winnipeg. She hopes to have her thesis published, so it can be used as an aid to policy makers across the country. "I'm passionate about the issue because of my background," said Monchalin, who is a mix of Algonquin, Metis and Huron Nations. "I chose Winnipeg as a case study, but this is a major issue facing all Canada."

Since May, she has been a professor in the department of criminology at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in British Columbia. Her focus is on aboriginal people and justice issues, and evidence-based crime prevention. Unlike some of her former teachers, Monchalin vows to help students any way she can.She said teachers can motivate students by helping them to discover and cultivate hidden strengths and talents.

Monchalin discovered her strength through the support of a rowing coach. While she lacked motivation in the classroom, she excelled as the coxswain for her high school's rowing team. She enrolled in a 12-month program at Niagara College to boost her academic standing and then attended Eastern Michigan University on an athletic scholarship. She earned her bachelor's degree in criminology and started her master's degree in the same field of study.

She returned to Canada to complete the degree after receiving an academic scholarship to the University of Ottawa, followed by her PhD at the bilingual school's department of criminology.

As one of the newest professors at Kwantlen, Monchalin has immersed herself in the aboriginal student club and nearby aboriginal centre. She recently received funding to have an aboriginal elder teach students how to make traditional native drums, so the school can start its own drumming group. She also plans to launch the school's first rowing team in the near future. For now, she's busy catching up with friends and family in Fort Erie before returning to B.C. in early January.

"I'm very proud of my sister," said her younger sibling Renee. "She let's me know that anything is possible so, if I don't do good in a class, I shouldn't get upset about it."