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SFU creates university-wide plan for First Nations students

March 20, 2008

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By Carol Thorbes

SFU will implement a comprehensive, university-wide plan for First Nations education with assistance from a seed grant of $86,000 from the B.C. Ministry for Advanced Education.

"We have a longstanding commitment to First Nations academic programming, research development and partnership in communities," says President Michael Stevenson. "But, as is the case at other universities, we haven’t been as successful as we could and should be in developing university-wide programming and attracting First Nations students, faculty and staff. The coordinated and focused vision presented in this plan will correct this."

About 70 per cent of First Nations children living on reserves fail to graduate from high school and only 27 per cent of the First Nations population between 15 and 44 years of age hold a post-secondary certificate, diploma or degree, compared to 46 per cent of the Canadian population.

There are currently 441 undergraduate and graduate First Nations students enrolled at SFU.

Under the new plan, an Office for First Nations will coordinate the development of activities and programming that are sensitive to First Nations issues and needs. The grant money will be used to engage the entire university in recruiting aboriginal students and fostering their success academically and professionally.

"The plan’s success rests on its ability to gain the trust of First Nations people, which means addressing their historic, current and future needs," says Lisa Sterling, special advisor/director of aboriginal affairs.

"We wouldn’t be talking about tailoring university programs and activities to First Nations needs in this particular way if we weren’t coming out of a historical context in which residential schools and government policies tried to strip away First Nations culture, languages, and traditions."

As part of the SFU plan, the First Nations Student Centre and vice-president’s office are developing The SFU Career Education Guide with Aboriginal Perspectives.

They also staged a workshop series March 17-20 to raise awareness about the academic accomplishments among First Nations people, their desire to stay close to their communities and the career options available to them.

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