SFU Indigenous Student Centre News 2014-2015

SFU Indigenous Student Centre News 2014-2015

By: SFU News Supplement
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Previously published in SFU News Aboriginal Supplement February 2015


New Indigenous Student Centre welcomes students

Gary George, centre, Indigenous student life coordinator, in the ISC lounge with students who are making drums. Marcia Guno, director, ISC, helps Indigenous students make the most of their university experience. The spacious new Indigenous Student Centre, which director Marcia Guno opened last September, is a home away from home for more than 600 Indigenous students. Featuring offices and meeting rooms that showcase First Nations art and culture, it also houses the office of the First Nations Student Association. Planned with assistance from First Nations students and community representatives, the $500,000 centre’s wood and stone finishes reflect nature and pay homage to the Coast Salish territories upon which SFU sits. Amenities include a smoke-eater for indoor smudging, a Smartboard and computers for studying, student meeting and gathering spaces, a dedicated room for the Elders’ Program, and a kitchen. “Our centre is a warm and welcoming space for our students,” says Guno, who notes that the larger space can now accommodate cultural activities and host community members and special events.


New ISC director has come full circle at SFU


Marcia Guno, a member of the Nisga’a Nation and the new director of SFU’s Indigenous Student Centre (ISC), understands firsthand what it’s like to struggle with university courses and the transition to a large university community. She ruefully acknowledges that she wasn’t a star pupil when she finally gained entry to SFU in 1994 after two previous attempts.“I struggled,” she recalls. “At the time, there were so few resources for First Nations students—there was no Aboriginal entry policy, no recognition of Aboriginal issues, and I didn’t know of any resources that I could connect to. I felt isolated.”The experience left her with a strong desire to determine how First Nations students could make a more successful transition to university, and she went on to earn an MA in anthropology and sociology. Her research examined Aboriginal students’ post-secondary educational experiences. After graduating, she spent three years employed at SFU, initially as the First Nations Student coordinator, then as an Aboriginal recruiter and finally, as acting director of the then-named First Nations Student Centre. During that time she was instrumental in forging a provincial Aboriginal recruitment initiative, called Strengthening Connections, for Aboriginal youth living on reserves.

“Strengthening Connections is still going strong and it has really helped with creating awareness among Aboriginal kids across B.C.” says Guno. “It really highlights SFU in a good way.”  In 2006, she left the University for a position as director of communications and relationships with the provincial First Nations Steering Committee, and then worked as an Aboriginal education consultant for a variety of organizations. She returned to SFU as director of the ISC last June, with a mandate to continue to provide support to Indigenous students. “I want to help them make the most of their university experience and to succeed in their educational goals,” she says.

Now, Guno feels that she has come full circle.“It has been quite a journey,” she says. “It’s an absolutely wonderful vantage point to recall my life here as a student and return to see how things have changed since then.”

She notes some big changes, including far more Indigenous students, staff and faculty and a new emphasis on Aboriginal awareness training for staff and faculty.“And our president has vocally and clearly indicated an interest in First Nations issues, and representation and inclusion—that’s a huge step.”

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ISC hosts a wealth of programs and services

In addition to the Elders’ Program, the centre houses the peer cousins’ mentorship and peer education learning and writing programs, and offers academic tutoring services. Guno has also organized regular drop-in sessions for students to meet with advisors from SFU’s Learning Commons, Academic Advising, Co-op Education and Career Counselling.

“It helps build bridges amongst departments and creates a comfortable environment for our students to utilize services,” says Guno. “It will also increase overall awareness of the student support available to them.” Guno says she is implementing a holistic model of service that features workshops addressing not only students’ learning requirements but also their spiritual, physical and emotional needs.  “Workshops in these areas include professional development, academic assistance, study skills, eating healthily on a budget,

fitness and wellness, and cultural activities such as drum-making, cedar weaving and beading.” Says first-year student Kayla Mitchell, “I come to the ISC every day that I’m on campus. They often have food and bannock, and workshops. It’s nice to have that cultural influence at school—a community within a community.

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Posted on March 15, 2015