Nanette Black is a military medic, mother of four, community volunteer, business owner and full-time student

Nanette Black is one impressive (and busy!) person. The mother of four children aged eight and under, she has served as a medic in the Canadian military for the past 20 years, with deployments to Kandahar and Kabul, Afghanistan, and Sierra Leone, Africa. Currently on an educational leave, she is in her third year as a full-time student in Mount Saint Vincent University’s Business Administration program. She also owns and operates three part-time businesses.

Nanette BlackAnd now she is among the 2024 recipients of the Frank H. Sobey Awards for Excellence in Business Studies, an honour recognizing her entrepreneurialism, employment experience and commitment to community support, and accompanied by a $45,000 prize.

“I am blown away by it,” says Nanette of receiving the award. “Honestly, I opened the email about it and just burst into tears. It was so exciting to receive the news. Obviously, the honour of receiving the award is huge. I’m also very excited about the mentorship aspect of the program and the networking opportunities within Atlantic Canada that it offers.”

Recognizing leadership
The Frank H. Sobey Awards for Excellence in Business Studies began in 1989 as a way of supporting the development of future business leaders and business programs at Atlantic Canadian universities. All full-time business students attending Atlantic universities are eligible for consideration, but Nanette says she initially wasn’t sure if she should apply, “…given that I’m almost 40 years old – not the usual 17 or 18-year-old student applying for an academic award.” MSVU Business Professor Dr. Sandi Findlay-Thompson, encouraged her to apply, letting her know that “…only the best of the best business students in Atlantic Canada could apply and you are one of those best…”

“We continue to be inspired by the talent, leadership and entrepreneurialism shining through students at Atlantic Canadian business schools,” said Paul D. Sobey, Chair of the Board of Trustees in an announcement issued today (March 27).

“I am so grateful that the selection committee recognized the value of Nanette’s many contributions to the economy, to her community, to her family, and most importantly to herself,” says Dr. Findlay-Thompson. “Women underestimate all that they do – I often feel they think ‘oh, I just do this’ and ‘I just do that’, without realizing the enormity of all that they do. They are working a full shift during the day and then a ‘back’ shift during the evening with family and studies and everything else that must be managed, including care for elderly parents at her stage in life.”

As Dr. Findlay-Thompson knows, age and experience are among Nanette’s many strengths. In addition to her military service, she is highly involved in her community – coaching her daughters’ soccer team, volunteering with her daughters’ Girl Guides’ groups, serving as vice-chair of a local canoe and kayak club, and co-chairing the parent council at her children’s school. And that dedication to making a difference at the local level also carried through to her deployments, with Nanette recognizing the significant need in the regions where she served and finding ways to bring Canadian support to local children during all three tours.

“I remember, I was eating an apple at one point, and I put it on the tire of our armored vehicle when we had stopped somewhere. A child picked it up and it was like gold to them – an eaten apple core. It wakes you up to how fortunate we are in Canada and how unfortunate some circumstances are and how much help people need,” she says.

Entrepreneurial drive
In addition to everything she already has on the go in her daily life, Nanette also owns and operates three small businesses – including one that’s a joint venture with her two young daughters – and she aspires to pursue even more opportunities.

“The businesses I currently run include direct sales, home-based businesses related to whole foods and whole plant supplementation that align well with my focus on health and wellness as a medic,” says Nanette. “I also have a business with my eight and six-year-old daughters. That one’s called ‘Glitter and Glue Creations’ and we make crafts and sell them at farmers’ markets.”

Nanette plans to use some of the $45,000 prize that accompanies the Sobey award to support her current business ventures, but she’s also setting some of the money aside to invest in future endeavours.

“To be honest, I feel like I’m just beginning this journey,” she says. “I want to allow for growth by squirrelling a chunk of it aside so that once I do hone-in on exactly where I’m meant to be and what my purpose is business-wise, I’ll have it in the future to help me.”

Finding a home at MSVU
Nanette made her way to MSVU after being stationed in Halifax in 2018 and exploring local options for business degrees. She is in the process of transitioning from serving as a medic to health services management within the Canadian Armed Forces, with her new role requiring a Bachelor of Business Administration degree.

“It’s worked out really well that I landed in this program, because it’s ignited a lot of passion in me and I kind of feel like I found my home,” she says of being at MSVU. “I really love the small hometown feel of the campus and the small classes. Once I entered into the program, I was truly impressed by all it had to offer. The faculty in the business program are very supportive, and the university is extremely forthcoming with opportunities and assistance everywhere.”

Focus on family and purpose
As the mother of eight-year-old Scarlet, six-year-old Ruby Lew, four-year old Chet, and two-year-old Theodore, it’s clear that family is a priority for Nanette.

“My family is my biggest influence. That includes my children and husband, of course, but also my parents, my grandparents and my siblings,” she says. “My grandparents were all kind of entrepreneurs themselves, and my parents were extremely supportive. I also have four siblings, and they’ve all had a huge impact on my life.”

As for what comes next, Nanette says, “I’m very proud of my military service and I still have probably five years ahead of me, if not more, depending on where life takes me. I’m trying to discover what will meet my pursuit of life’s purpose the most. I know that I need to have a human impact. So, for now, I’m trying to figure out what business model or business plan is going to serve both me and the community I live in the most.”