Rescuing her friends and a canoe from the “jaws of death” helped Patricia Curtiss earn $18,000.
“We got into a tight scenario on the Takhini River once,” said Curtiss’ friend Teri Cherkewich, who referenced Curtiss for the scholarship. “We were canoeing with a group of friends and we ended up losing the boat at the jaws of death.”
All six canoers and two dogs fit into one canoe to fish out the other that had floated halfway down the river.
“I think Patricia was instrumental with keeping the team motivated and focused in terms of getting ourselves out of that pinch.”
The American Association of University Women awarded the $20,000 international scholarship. It honours a woman who displays leadership and involvement in advocating for women in her community and who is pursuing a master’s degree or doctorate.
Curtiss has been the executive director of Women in Trades and Technology for the past two and a half years. She encourages young girls to aspire to be what they want, said Curtiss.
“I think I serve as a mentor for a lot of people by virtue of what I do … having lots of enthusiasm, being positive, being that person that tells them they can do whatever they want and there’s nothing, absolutely nothing, that holds people back if they have the desire.”
Through workshops and classroom talks, Curtiss hopes to encourage girls to work in the trades and technology field.
“It’s important because it’s a good career, it’s a well-paid position and a lot of times it has the opportunity to pull women out of marginalized positions,” she said. “It’s a confidence-builder because you get to see the product of your own labour and intelligence. So you can see years down the road, ‘Oh, I helped build that house,’ or ‘I did the siding for it.’
“Once you give them that sensation of working with their hands and building something and finishing something and completing it, that’s a good feeling. It’s just an amazing experience to be a part of.”
Curtiss has also done her fair share of trade work.
She’s a certified faller – a chainsaw operator for cutting down trees.
She worked in Jasper as a lumber jill among many male coworkers.
“It didn’t feel special at all because I thought, I know I can do the job as well as a man and I thought it’s just a really great career,” said Curtiss. “I wasn’t doing it for the accountability of being a woman. I was just doing it because I like to be outside, I like physical labour.”
But she thought her hard work would inspire other women.
“After I finished, I thought I’d be paving the way. I thought everybody will know girls can do this job. Unfortunately no one’s really taken up that job as a woman,” she laughed. “I guess not every woman likes to get dirty and sweat and work hard that way.”
Now she’s working hard preparing for her action research project, which will earn her her master’s degree from Saybrook University in San Francisco.
Through the Leadership Institute of Seattle, she’ll be working with a Yukon women’s organization, yet to be determined, to help them operate more cohesively and efficiently and “in a more sustainable way in terms of human interaction,” she said.
She’ll begin her research in September and will complete it by February.
“Once she finishes her master’s, she’s just going to have more skills to bring back to the community and really the female youth in our community,” said her friend Cherkewich.
Curtiss said she hopes her leadership work makes a difference. She wants to see more compassion for all living beings, she said.
“To quote the famous phrase, I like being the change I want to see. Being a living, breathing product of what I want to see in the world is important to me.”
Contact Larissa Robyn Johnston at