Alumna Joan McCalla says her scholarship for Indigenous students is about looking to the future

September 28, 2021 by Peter Boisseau - A&S News

A&S alumna Joan McCalla sees her bequest gift to establish a scholarship for Indigenous students who want to pursue a master’s degree as a personal statement.

“There's nothing specifically in my background or activities that’s involved with the Indigenous community. It's more as a Canadian looking at my country and asking what are the priorities and issues that need to be addressed,” says McCalla, who graduated from U of T in 1974 with a master of science in urban and regional planning.

As Canada honours residential school survivors, their families and communities with Orange Shirt Day and the inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on September 30, the Joan McCalla Scholarship will be about acknowledging the past while looking to the future.

“Indigenous communities have faced numerous barriers and obstacles and I want to break down financial obstacles these students may be facing,” says McCalla.

“This scholarship is about making a difference in one person's life and allowing them to do something they might not otherwise have been able to achieve. And then who knows? In achieving their goals, maybe they'll make the world a better place for all of us.”

Joan McCalla posing on a ship.
McCalla says her scholarship is about looking to the future. Photo: Gianlucca Colla, National Geographic.

A scholarship allowed McCalla to come to U of T from her Edmonton hometown as a young student to pursue her graduate studies, and the experience shaped her life and career.

Now retired after a career in the Ontario public service and private sector, McCalla hopes establishing the scholarship for Indigenous A&S students will also inspire others to do the same.

“No one makes it in this world entirely on their own and we all need help at different times and in different ways,” says McCalla.

“Whether you want to think of it as paying it back or paying it forward, this bequest acknowledges that just as I received help as I was starting out with a graduate scholarship, I'm in a position to be able to provide that support to someone else.”

McCalla realizes she was privileged to grow up in a home where it was taken for granted that she and her siblings would go on to university. She chose to create a future scholarship through her will at the master’s degree because she feels that’s where students really get to specialize in the skills and knowledge that will establish their place in the world.

The scholarship is specific to A&S because the faculty covers planning and public policy, two areas of particular interest to McCalla, plus many of the programs and fields where either she or friends and family members chose to make their careers and have an impact. It also offers a diverse range of options and experiences for students, she says.

“I know these opportunities in a diverse faculty at a large, multinational university will create a strong foundation for any student.”

McCalla says it is important that students from Indigenous communities are well represented at Canada’s largest and top-ranked university.

“I'm hoping that this bequest — and perhaps donations by other alumni — will help ensure all voices are represented and heard in U of T’s diverse student population, because our future leaders come from all backgrounds and all should feel welcome,” she says.

“The ultimate goal is to encourage Indigenous students to achieve their educational goals at U of T to begin with and then to stay on to take their master’s degree.”

A bequest is a strategic and affordable approach to your philanthropic legacy. To discuss establishing your own legacy at the Faculty of Arts & Science, contact Niamh Earls Hallworth, Senior Development Officer, at or 416-978-1570.