How Cambrian College is working to ease Indigenous learners into college life

A program at Cambrian College is aiming to help Indigenous students transition with a little more ease into college life.

Over four weeks, the free, full-time program uses traditional Indigenous knowledge to teach students how to cope and build confidence.

The program is part of a three-year-long research program funded by the National Science and Engineering Council of Canada through its College and Communities Social Innovation Fund.

Janice Clarke is dean for the schools of justice, community services and general studies. She said the school applied for the funding in 2019.

The idea for the program sprung from several recruitment visits to communities along the James Bay Coast.

A recent cohort from Cambrian College’s Indigenous Transition program with James Tregonning, the co-ordinator of the initiative. (Submitted by Janice Clarke)

Clarke said elders and other community members voiced a need for transitional programming to help Indigenous learners gain confidence and feel encouraged to pursue post-secondary education.

“We often used to find that students would, they would arrive from a northern community or, you know, a more rural community and they would stay for maybe two or three weeks and then they would return to their community. They would withdraw from their program,” Clarke said.

She added that research has shown that a significant number of Indigenous students, in particular, experience stress when starting post-secondary studies as a result of relocation and missed connection with family and community.

Learning from the medicine wheel

So far, about 42 Indigenous learners have taken part in the programming since it first launched in August 2021, with several of last year’s participants returning to serve as mentors for the new cohort.

Over the course of the program, participants are taught about the principles of the medicine wheel and how they can be used to usher in a new chapter while remaining rooted in Indigenous culture.

James Tregonning is the co-ordinator of the program. He said, ultimately, one of the major objectives of the program is to gather information so that other institutions can implement similar initiatives to better serve their Indigenous students.

“Post-secondary institutions, colleges here in Ontario have reached out to me to provide them with Indigenous self-care model that I’ve created here, for the college, for this particular program,” he said.

“Even the University of Phoenix and the University of New Mexico have called me and asked to facilitate workshops for their particular workers and students.”

The research program is set to wrap up next year, at which time researchers will analyze the data collected and be made available to other institutions interested in building similar initiatives.

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