August 21, 2008: Capilano student has the whole world in her hands

      August 21, 2008
      Contact: Shelley Kean
      Tel: 604.984.1794

      (NORTH VANCOUVER, B.C.)—“Extremely relieved” was what Sera-Lys McArthur felt when she received an anxiously-awaited call from the Victoria Foundation on July 7. The person on the other end of the phone was calling to tell her that she was a recipient of the Premier’s One World Scholarship – a scholarship for undergraduate students in British Columbia who want to continue their post-secondary education abroad.

      McArthur had been waiting nervously for almost two months to find out if she would be one of only five possible recipients of the annual award. She already knew she’d been accepted into the renowned East 15 Acting School at England’s University of Essex, and she also knew that she’d received another grant from the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation. Expecting about $4,000 from NAAF, her dream of studying abroad seemed to be a little more distant when she was told that the award would only be $1,500.

      Desperate for more funding, the university transfer student visited Capilano University's First Nations advisor, who guided her to the website for the Irving K. Barber British Columbia Scholarship Society. There she found that the Society, in partnership with the Victoria Foundation, provides several lucrative scholarships to meritorious students attending post-secondary institutions both throughout B.C. and internationally.

      “Can I just verify the amount,” McArthur asked the Victoria Foundation caller, while walking down a Vancouver street with her cell phone. She had to make sure that her expectations weren’t going to be dashed yet again. “Twenty thousand dollars,” was the reply.

      “I was really floored,” she said. She knew what the scholarship was worth, but having it confirmed meant that her hopes to study in the UK just became a reality.

      McArthur grew up in Regina, Saskatchewan, the child of a single mother and a member of the Pheasant Rump Nakota First Nations. At the age of 12, the youngster talked her mother into allowing her to take a modelling course. The agency spotted potential and sent her to an audition for a Métis role for a CBC mini series called Revenge of the Land.

      “I loved it,” she said of the acting experience, “but wasn’t able to audition consistently in Regina, so instead I took a lot of classes in theatre, acting, singing and dancing.”

      After graduating from high school, McArthur headed straight for the bright lights of New York City, where she took a two-year accelerated post-secondary musical theatre program. After three years in the Big Apple, she moved to Vancouver, home to a number of television and film productions. She continued auditioning and taking acting courses, and eventually landed a prime role in another CBC mini series called The Englishman’s Boy. While her part was once again playing a young native girl, McArthur didn’t see it as being typecast.

      “I was honoured to be selected for The Englishman’s Boy,” she said. “It was an opportunity that others from my background don’t normally get. I feel truly blessed to tell the stories of my people. I do not identify as an aboriginal actress or student, but rather as a creative human being on a quest for knowledge and experience.”

      But after having experienced Broadway “from the inside out,” the young thespian knew that only a few of the lucky ones make a successful living as an actor. That’s why she made a decision to continue her education and perhaps become a teacher of her craft.

      “I’m already an assistant instructor at an acting school in Vancouver,” she said, “and while I’m looking forward to gaining more skills in my own occupation, I also want to obtain formal credentials to teach. I love working with youth and am very socially conscious. I also have an affinity for storytelling, and so I also hope to write, produce, or direct new project opportunities in the future.”

      With these goals in mind, McArthur came to Capilano in 2007, taking courses in jazz history, dramatic literature, French, creative writing, art history and practical phonetics and linguistics. Not your ordinary fare for an aspiring actress, but McArthur saw these courses as feeding into her theatrical and creative side.

      “I wanted to learn the history behind things so that I can fully understand the choices I make,” she said, sounding much wiser than her 23 years.

      “Cap was great,” she added, saying that she really appreciated the lounge for First Nations students. “Because I’ve always been treated like an exception, I wasn’t at first comfortable with the segregated room. But then I found it was a great place to connect with people I had something in common with. I could share ideas and a lot of my education came from sharing with the other First Nations students.”

      Having been out of the scholastic circle for three years, McArthur was hesitant to return to an academic environment.

      “I visited UBC and SFU, but they made me feel totally overwhelmed and nervous,” she said, “but Cap was so welcoming. They’ll lay it out for you. The teaching is very personal and it’s not like they’re trying to hide anything or confuse people. It’s also really goal-oriented.

      “For me, it was the right choice, plus the bus outside my home took me directly to the campus,” she said with a laugh.

      McArthur heads to the UK at the end of August and starts her next academic chapter in September.

      “The school there is perfect for me to hone my craft,” she said excitedly. “I can practise dialogue and classical text, and I’ll be able to travel and gain a new perspective on a universal art form.”

      She hopes to graduate by October 2009 with a master’s degree in acting, which will present her with alternative employment opportunities as a teacher, and, she hopes, expand her credibility as an actor – aboriginal or otherwise.

      “When I return to Canada, I intend to be hands-on in creative production initiatives in order to change the very term typecast, especially when it refers to racial background,” she said, adding, “but there is nothing more satisfying to me than to be able to play a character with the same blood-history as I have.”

      Along with a newly-printed cheque for $20,000, this Capilano student definitely has the whole world in her hands.

      Capilano University serves the communities of the Lower Mainland, Howe Sound, and the Sunshine Coast through campuses in North Vancouver, Squamish and Sechelt. Enrolment totals 6,700 students in credit programs each term with an additional 7,000 people taking non-credit courses annually. Capilano offers a complete range of preparatory courses, university transfer courses, business and management studies, creative and applied arts programs, health and human services programs, plus a range of services in support of student learning and success. Credentials awarded include bachelor degrees, associate degrees, post-baccalaureate diplomas, advanced diplomas, diplomas, certificates and statements of completion.