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Aboriginal programs help students envision bright futures


Students in our Aboriginal University Prep Program. Left to right: Raven Wright, Taylor Theodore and Summer Warrior. Image by Greg Ehlers.
August 27, 2014
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By Amy Robertson

SFU Continuing Studies’ Aboriginal University Transition Programs have inspired dozens of Aboriginal students to pursue successful futures.

The Aboriginal Pre-Health Program helps students work toward admission to SFU health science degree programs, and the Aboriginal University Prep Program prepares students to pursue SFU degrees in the arts and social sciences. Both programs, supported by SFU's University Priority Fund, have served more than 50 students since they began in 2011.

The Aboriginal Bridge Programs are unique in the educational landscape for two reasons: In addition to preparation for university, students who complete a program receive academic credit that is transferable into an undergraduate degree at SFU. The programs also affirm and integrate Indigenous knowledge and perspectives.

“Students tell us that the blend of Indigenous and Eurocentric ways of knowing give them an empowering learning experience,” says Judy Smith, who directs the programs. “A well-known literature review by Dr. Marie Battiste supports that view; she shows that culture and a strong cultural identity among Indigenous students are critical for building resilience and academic success.”

The Aboriginal perspective was one of the reasons Reanne Percival, currently an SFU health science student, chose the pre-health program. “I was pretty in touch with my Aboriginal culture, and I wanted to stay that route,” she says.

Learning activities rooted in Aboriginal culture include sharing circles, Aboriginal speakers, support from a resident Elder and more.

Josh Milanese and Summer Warrior, who completed the Aboriginal University Prep Program in 2013, say they appreciated that the program incorporated storytelling, visualization and experiential learning into the curriculum.

“The way we learn…is different,” Milanese says. “What the program taught us is exactly how we can use our ways of learning in university.”

Joyce Schneider, one of the program instructors, brings as much Aboriginal pedagogy into her teaching as she can. One tool she uses with students is a guided visualization of the future.

“We had to close our eyes and envision what our future would be like if we went this path or this path,” says Percival. “That really did help with seeing myself in that part and knowing that the hard work I’m going to do for the next four to seven years will pay off.”

Percival is preparing to enter her second year at SFU. “I feel quite confident,” she says. “After having your first semester out of the way, you’re just ready to keep going.”