Forging paths: $1M donation from Gene Haas Foundation paves the way for BCIT students through faculty like Indigenous Red Seal Machinist Chelsea Barron

Chelsea Barron has an angel. Her name was Angelina. She hunted on horseback, and was a residential school survivor and fierce mother of nine children. Angelina was her grandmother and is a driving inspiration in Chelsea’s life.

“My grandmother was barely 20 years old when she decided to leave the reservation,” Chelsea says, recalling stories from her childhood. “Despite all the challenges she faced, she found the courage to leave everything she knew behind, move to a big city, and make a better life for her children. Her strength, courage, and resilience are what inspire me to pursue my dreams every day.”

Like her grandmother before her, Chelsea is forging her own unique path. A member of the Tsilhqot’in (Chilcotin) Nation, the BCIT alumna is a Red Seal Machinist and one of few women working in a male-dominated trade. She says the leading-edge skills she learned as a student in the BCIT Machinist program helped prepare her to succeed.

Gene Haas Foundation donation enhances success of BCIT Machinist students

After working in the industry for eight years, Chelsea is now BCIT Machinist Faculty. Her move to teaching is a natural next step.

“When you think about the traditional background for Indigenous peoples, you see how similar it is to apprenticeship,” she explains. “My family and relatives grew up in an apprenticeship way of life that was passed down to me. They showed kids how to build, fish, hunt. It is a traditional way of growing up and learning in the community.”

She is leading the next generation of BCIT Machinist students, preparing them to succeed to even greater heights, thanks to a recent generous $1 million donation from the Gene Haas Foundation.

“My students are very excited,” she says. “The renovation and optimization of the Machine Shop will give our students the best experience possible when they come to BCIT. The shop is already one of the most impressive buildings at BCIT, in my opinion. The Gene Haas Foundation donation will make it even more amazing.”

BCIT School of Energy Dean Kacem Habiballah says, “This revitalized space will help us create a learning environment that is conducive to excellence in machining and manufacturing education.”

The Foundation’s $1 million contribution will be used to renovate the BCIT Machine Shop (building NW06) to upgrade the existing facilities and modernize the learning space. This renovation will enhance the applied learning experience of BCIT Machinist students, helping to better prepare them for careers in machining after graduation. The renovation is expected to take approximately three years to complete.

Learn more about Chelsea and the Machine Shop renovation. Watch the video.

Standing out and proving she belongs

“You don’t often see many women in the machining industry,” Chelsea says. “Being singled out as different, as a minority, a woman, an Indigenous person…it’s tough. You have to prove you belong.”

Chelsea says she let her work speak for itself, adding that the training she received at BCIT gave her the confidence and competence to do exactly that. She says her instructors and their connections to industry made all the difference to her experience as a student and now in her career.

“I’ve been trained by the best and I know what I’m doing,” she says. “BCIT gave me those tools.”

Sharing Angelina’s courage

While Chelsea never met her grandmother, the stories of her perseverance are as vivid as though she had lived them herself.

“Her courage and her strong-willed spirit lives on through her children and her grandchildren,” says Chelsea. “Without her, I wouldn’t be here today. She is my motivation.”


The Gene Haas Foundation is a long-time supporter of BCIT Manufacturing students. As advocates of skills building and education in Canada, the BCIT Foundation has been one of BCIT’s most generous philanthropic partners. In November 2020, the Gene Haas Foundation committed an extraordinary $1 million in support of BCIT Machinist programs in the School of Energy, putting their total donations to BCIT at well over $1.25 million to date.


Read more stories about BCIT grads forging paths for women in trades:

Leave a comment