By Andrew Kochergin
Sheryl Thompson promised herself a long time ago that she would go back to school. While researching post-secondary options for her daughter, she learned about SFU’s Aboriginal University Transition Programs, and decided it was time to go back. Today, she’s studying towards her bachelor’s degree, working as a research assistant for the Global Tobacco Control Project and is the camp coordinator for SFU’s Academic Summer Camp for Aboriginal Students.
Sheryl, whose Aboriginal heritage combines Cree and Métis, initially felt out of place at SFU. “Aboriginal women didn’t go to university, it wasn’t a place to belong,” she says. “I really had to struggle with that, and with not feeling like some affirmative action.”
She also didn’t know where to turn for help. “My family, my sisters, my aunties, my uncles—nobody went to university,” she says. “I had no idea how to get there, how to apply, how to sort it out.”
The Aboriginal Pre-Health Program, which prepares students planning to pursue a degree in health or health sciences, introduced her to a variety of resources on campus. She learned where to go for help, how to study for university and how to read academic articles. Sheryl would bring home everything she learned and share it with her daughter in order to make her own transition to university easier.
The highlight of the program was her first time in a science lab. As she learned how lab equipment works and completed biology and chemistry labs, she started contemplating a career in science. Now, she is co-authoring journal articles for the Global Tobacco Control Project. “I don’t think I could have done it without the Aboriginal University Transition Programs,” she says.
Sheryl recommends going back to school. “I think the bridge program offers support in a very culturally sensitive environment,” she says. “It brings professors together who have a keen insight in addressing some of the difficulties facing Aboriginal students. They have a clear understanding of the disadvantages, or poverty, or abuse or things a lot of us face. They bring either an incredible kindness or an understanding that makes it possible to work to overcome those issues.”
After Sheryl completes her bachelor’s degree, her goal is to finish her master of public health the year her youngest child graduates from high school.
Sheryl is excited about her future career in health policy. “It never occurred to me five years ago that I could do my bachelor’s,” she says. “And it didn’t occur to me until last year that I could do my master’s. I don’t know what’s after that, but I have options. I have great options.”