Michelle Roberge (’77): helping young women in science

As a young woman in the 1970s, Michelle Roberge (’77) had personal experience of the financial challenges of attending university for both her undergraduate and graduate studies. Now she is helping other young women complete their science degrees.

Working toward a master’s degree in biology at Acadia, she received support and encouragement from her mother. As a single parent, however, her mother wasn’t in a position to help financially. “My grandparents took my mother and two children into their small house in Halifax,” Michelle says. “My mother worked for a large retailer, but in those days women were paid less than men for the same work. My grandfather, who was a stevedore, died during my third year of undergraduate, and my Nan died when I was eight. I had to work to get through university for both degrees.”

In 2013, she established the Roberge-Pierce Bursary in Science in memory of her mother and grandparents. The bursary is awarded to a Canadian female student studying full-time in a Bachelor of Science program, majoring in the natural sciences (biology, chemistry, earth and environmental Science, or physics) and who demonstrates financial need. To ensure the bursary continues, she has made Acadia the beneficiary of a large part of her estate.

Worked in various locations

Since graduating from Acadia, Michelle has been a biologist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada. She has worked in various locations, from the Maritimes to the Arctic. Today, she is Section Head – Habitat Monitoring, Standards and Reporting in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador.

“I love the work,” she says. “We undertake monitoring of development activities to ensure the protection of fish and fish habitat. We ensure appropriate measures are in place during construction and that they are effective in mitigating potential impacts. These measures might include the use of filter fabric to keep sediment from getting into the water or ensuring no blockage to fish passage.”

A conversation with a financial advisor sparked the idea of setting up a bursary. “I’m single with no family to pass my estate to,” she says. “The financial advisor asked me, ‘Have you ever thought of establishing a bursary to a university that you loved?’ I loved Acadia.”

The advisor suggested Michelle set up the bursary now instead of waiting for it to come out of her estate. That way she would see the impact of her money. As well, the university would give her a tax receipt for her donation.

She wanted the bursary to go to a woman in the sciences who needs financial support to help them complete their education. “You never know what difference your contribution may make,” she says. “Who knows what that student may do in future?”

Michelle appreciates that Acadia applies the bursary directly to the student’s tuition. “If you’re donating, you don’t have to worry about what happens to your money,” she says. “There were no restrictions on where I wanted the resources to go, and I can increase or reduce the amount each year.”

Hearing from the bursary recipients has meant a lot to Michelle. “In one letter, the student said she wanted to go back to help her community, but she didn’t know how she was going to finish her final year,” she says. The bursary’s assistance allowed the student to finish and return to help people in her own community. “When you hear that, it gives you a good feeling.”

All alumni should consider giving back to their alma mater, she believes. “It doesn’t have to be a huge amount,” she points out. “You could do something now that would be rewarding, and you’d see the reward while you’re still around.”

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