Sterling focuses on First Nations

February 24, 2005, vol. 32, no. 4
By Stuart Colcleugh



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Lisa Sterling cites her new position as special adviser and director of aboriginal affairs with the VP-academic's office as an important step in SFU's commitment to increasing educational opportunities for First Nations people.

“It's the first position of its kind at the vice-president level and sets a precedent for other universities in Canada,” says Sterling, who was appointed last September on secondment from the faculty of education.

“It's a clear indication of the university's commitment to more senior management leadership on First Nations programming.”

A member of the Thompson Interior Salish and originally from Merritt, Sterling has extensive experience in both senior government and post-secondary education on aboriginal issues.

The assistant professor of education holds a BA in psychology from SFU, an MA in education from UBC and a PhD in education from UBC and Harvard, in addition to studying at Harvard's John F. Kennedy school of government.

Sterling says her mandate is twofold: to develop First Nations initiatives, programs and research that incorporate aboriginal knowledge and reflect aboriginal culture; and to “create more programs and increased knowledge about First Nations across the university and across cultures.”

Her first priority is to coordinate a university-wide three-year strategic plan for aboriginal programs and activities reflective of First Nations values.

The initial meeting held in December to provide a framework for the plan “was very exciting and a good starting point,” she says.

“It was the first time SFU has brought together senior administrators, educators, students, the First Nations community and all departments in unison to plan how to provide aboriginal students with increased educational opportunities and improve our ability to serve First Nations students and their communities.”

Sterling has also been working since September on development of a First Nations studies doctoral program. She says the proposed interdisciplinary program would be the first of its kind in education at the PhD level.

SFU currently offers a minor in First Nations studies at either the Burnaby campus or as part of a university partnership program in Kamloops. It also offers a number of certificate programs at Chief Dan George centre for advanced studies at the SFU Vancouver campus.

Among several other projects, Sterling is working to recruit and retain more First Nations faculty and students.

“My role is fundamentally about responding to the needs of First Nations communities and learners and building bridges to provide a meaningful place for First Nations,” she says.

“We want to ensure that our academic programs incorporate and reflect aboriginal knowledge into the curriculum. But we also want to sensitize, inform and educate faculty, students and staff about aboriginal people from a strength-based perspective and create better partnerships with First Nations communities.

“It's an exciting opportunity and time to be at SFU, and I look forward to advancing the conversation here.”

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