media release

SFU Aboriginal programs advance student dreams

June 26, 2013

Janelle Dobson-Kocsis (New West resident), 778.689.9761,
Elliot Goldner, 778.782.5148,
Felix Breden, 778.782.5647/778.782.5641,
Carol Thorbes, PAMR, 778.782.3035,


In less than a year, Janelle Dobson-Kocsis has gone from feeling trapped in a fast-food restaurant job to daring to dream she can help change the world for the better.

Dobson-Kocsis, a member of the Teslin-Tlingit Nation and Kwanlin Dun Band, credits her transformation to the gifted teaching and academic flexibility in Simon Fraser University’s eight-month Aboriginal Pre-Health (APH) program at the Surrey campus.

The program’s nine academic and studies-skills courses, both credit and non-credit, help Aboriginal high school grads and mature students upgrade their academic standing to gain entry into post-secondary health sciences studies.

They cover everything from learning strategies and math to academic literacy and include two first-year courses on Canada’s Aboriginal people.

After graduating from New Westminster Secondary seven years ago, Dobson-Kocsis failed to get into Douglas College’s psychiatric nursing degree program because her math mark was too low.

Desperate to rise above a minimum wage job, the New Westminster resident discovered SFU’s APH program while attending an information session at Douglas College two years ago.

She credits Veselin Jungic, an SFU math senior lecturer, APH instructor and co-founder of Math Catcher, with helping her overcome math hurdles that often reduced her to tears.

“Veselin spent many patient hours using pictures, diagrams and objects to repeatedly explain math concepts and formulas,” says Dobson-Kocsis, now a Math Catcher volunteer teacher.

“If every teacher could be like Veselin the world would be free of math fear and a much happier place.”

Accepted into both SFU’s undergrad degree program in psychology and Douglas College’s psychiatric nursing degree program, Dobson-Kocsis will pursue the latter this fall and then a master’s in health sciences at SFU.

“The clinical degree will give me hands-on experience in a hospital setting,” explains Dobson-Kocsis who has long dreamed of helping Aboriginal people deal with mental health issues. She notes Canada’s suicide rate is highest among Aboriginal people.

“To really help remedy this I need to be trained in developing mental health policies and services that better support Aboriginal people. That’s why graduate work at SFU will be invaluable.”

Dobson-Kocsis credits two SFU professors’ flexibility with helping her land a summer job that is advancing her goal of becoming an Aboriginal mental-health policy advisor.

Working with SFU health sciences professor Elliot Goldner, Dobson-Kocsis helps SFU’s Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction (CARMHA) gather research, design course material and deliver presentations.

She found her way into Goldner’s research fold through SFU’s Training of Aboriginal Youth in Biomedical Labs (TAYBL) program, funded by Merck & Co. Pioneered by SFU biologist Felix Breden, TAYBL mentors APH grads in biomedical sciences in preparation for health-related careers.

Seeing that Dobson-Kocsis’ interest in mental health dovetailed well with Goldner’s research, Breden helped the two connect.

“This is the first TAYBL student I have worked with and it has been a great experience,” says Goldner. “I have sought to provide learning opportunities that match Janelle’s interests and she is making a valuable contribution to our research and teaching activities,” says Goldner.

Backgrounder: Aboriginal programs advance student dreams

SFU biologist Felix Breden, founder of the TAYBL program, says the university will soon establish a sequel to the program, this time mentoring students in population health sciences. He says that would be a more natural fit for a student with Janelle Dobson-Kocsis’ career interests.

Prospective students can learn more about SFU’s Aboriginal Bridge programs at the Surrey campus in September (pre-health program) and in January 2014 (university prep program). Free information sessions will be held at SFU’s downtown campus at Harbour Centre from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.

Simon Fraser University is Canada’s top-ranked comprehensive university and one of the top 50 universities in the world under 50 years old. With campuses in Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey, B.C., SFU engages actively with the community in its research and teaching, delivers almost 150 programs to more than 30,000 students, and has more than 120,000 alumni in 130 countries.

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Simon Fraser University: Engaging Students, Engaging Research, Engaging Communities.

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