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Political science student gets second chance at university

Kalista Lepka sets sights on law school after graduation to specialize in aboriginal law and sustainable energy

After taking a few years off from her studies, Kalista Lepka, right, re-enrolled at the University of Calgary and is now graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science. She is pictured here with her uncle Barry Monkman, president of The Spirit of Mother Earth Mobile Treatment at Abraham Lake. She plans on going to law school next year. Photo courtesy of Kalista Lepka

By Jacqueline Louie

Arts student Kalista Lepka is deeply grateful for getting a second chance at the University of Calgary.

“I’ve learned so much. I’ve grown as a person and as an academic — I’ve grown in every way possible," say Lepka, 25, who is convocating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science. "I feel like I’ve come out of my experience at the U of C a better person."

She’ll be writing her LSAT and Graduate Record Examination this summer, with her eyes set on going to law school next year.

Perseverance propelled her to re-enroll at the university after two years off 

Lepka was born and raised in Calgary. She is of Cree descent on her father’s side of the family, from Peguis First Nation, Manitoba; and Ukrainian Canadian, on her mother’s side of the family. Her spiritual name is Red-Tailed Hawk Woman.

“The red-tailed hawk within Cree beliefs is the protector of Mother Earth,” Lepka explains. “It’s an embodiment of perseverance — to keep going until you get to where you need to be.”

It’s a fitting name for Lepka, who re-enrolled at the university after completing three-quarters of a Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish. She had taken two years off to work at a restaurant, and at the Calgary Courts Centre. She returned to university in order to become a lawyer, specializing in aboriginal law and sustainable energy.

'It's time to make that transition away from energy sources that are clearly polluting our world'

“I think it’s time to make that push for a sustainable form of energy," says Lepka. "It’s time to make that transition away from energy sources that are clearly polluting our world and contributing to anthropogenic climate change."

Sarah Jordaan, assistant professor of energy politics and policy in the Department of Political Science, has recommended that Lepka pursue graduate studies in public policy. 

“She shows a real interest and curiosity in the subject,” says Jordaan, who taught Lepka in three of her classes and observed her as a top student. “She is engaged, extremely polite, and exemplary in terms of her behaviour. She has been very successful in all of my classes and has won a number of scholarships.”

Championing educational outreach and leadership training for aboriginal youth

In addition to her studies, Lepka has kept busy working as a University of Calgary research assistant with the Canadian Elections Database. And for a year and a half, she was an ambassador with the Native Ambassador Post-Secondary Initiative (NAPI), providing motivational presentations, educational outreach and leadership training for aboriginal youth in Calgary, northern Alberta and northern B.C.

Lepka is “extremely easy to work with. She is very knowledgeable and dependable,” says Mallaina Friedle, NAPI program co-ordinator. 

“She has a very respectful, calm and genuine demeanor. That really made her an asset to the team, as well as a facilitator," says Friedle. "She is a great leader. We miss her, and we want her back.”

Volunteer with aboriginal youth restorative justice committee

As a volunteer, Lepka previously served as VP Events for the university's First Nations Student Association. For the past two years, she has volunteered off campus as a member of Calgary’s Aboriginal Youth Restorative Justice Committee, working with youth ages 12 to 17.

“We try to get to the root of the problem. We try to provide good alternatives for them to look towards,” Lepka says.

“It can be pretty emotional when you see the kids start to realize how their actions are affecting people, and how they can make better decisions. That’s the golden moment; to see the epiphany on their faces.”