New pathways to improve Indigenous learners' post-secondary experience

December 22, 2021

In 2018 SFU’s Indigenous Pathways Planning Group (IPPG) was formed and set out to engage with Indigenous communities and SFU community members to better support Indigenous learners’ post-secondary experience. Education professor Michelle Pidgeon co-chaired the IPPG with Tania Bubela, Dean of Health Sciences.

From 2018-2020, Dr. Pidgeon and her research team, under the guidance of the IPPG, conducted environmental scans of access, transition, and retention programs at other post-secondary institutions across Canada that support Indigenous students. In this work, the team also held multiple community consultations through interviews and sharing circles. The Group’s research culminates in the Pathways Report presented to SFU Senate and Board of Governors in early 2021, which provides several innovative recommendations for improving Indigenous students’ access, transition and retention.  The report takes up a central plank of the work of the SFU-Aboriginal Reconciliation Council (SFU-ARC) Walk This Path With Us report, specifically Call to Action 15, and builds a road map for implementation.

The Pathways report recognizes that Indigenous communities need universities to nurture an environment that better accommodates Indigenous students by addressing systemic racism and other barriers. One way to address such barriers is to create accessible and in-community programs that are free or subsidized. Ensuring Indigenous youth can see themselves pursuing, and successfully achieving their education goals at university can begin while they are still in K-12 school. For example, programs such as math and science summer day-camps for K-12 students can create a space for Indigenous youth to experience and learn more about university life, along with potential career and education opportunities.

The report also acknowledged the importance of Indigenous spaces at SFU to foster cultural connections, and highlighted the need to increase Indigenous staff who can assist students throughout their post-secondary journey from admissions, registration, financial aid, academic advising, and career services and everything in-between. The report can help SFU redefine how to continue its decolonizing, reconciliation and Indigenization efforts.

The university has since begun implementing the recommendations from the Pathways Report including developing a new Indigenous leadership role, tentatively titled the AVP – Indigenous, investing new resources in bursaries and awards for Indigenous students and building a permanent home for the Indigenous University Preparation Program.