Aboriginal Student Achievement Program

by Kirk Sibbald

In keeping with the spirit of the treaties, in response to demographic projections, and due to our location, the College of Arts and Science has developed a new program tailored toward first-year Aboriginal students. This new program is part of the college and university’s commitment to become the preferred post-secondary destination for Aboriginal students from across Canada.

The Aboriginal Student Achievement Program (ASAP), which brings together the College of Arts and Science and the University Learning Centre (ULC), will help first-year Aboriginal students improve their academic skills, set career goals and join a community of like-minded students on campus.

The ASAP was established by Kristina Fagan, the new assistant dean of aboriginal affairs, an assistant professor of English and a member of the Labrador Métis. The program is designed to help support students on various levels that are critical to their success in all things related to being a university student.

Learning Communities (LCs) are central to this program, and consist of a small group of first-year students who choose to register in a common set of classes. Students share a classroom experience and gather once a week with two upper-year peer mentors during what is called a LC Hour.

“The ASAP Learning Communities are a comprehensive program that offers first-year Aboriginal students support on many levels – academic, social, cultural, financial,” said Fagan. 

“We are helping to create a strong community of Aboriginal students on campus, within which the students can help each other, and also come to feel that they are part of the larger campus community.”

“When we design the course combinations that make up the core structure of a Learning Community, we really can’t predict how that LC will take shape,” said Erin DeLathouwer, an LC co-ordinator in the ULC. “What we’re aiming to do is set up all of the conditions for a group of new students to shape their own experiences by taking their education in whatever direction they collectively choose.”

The ASAP is one way in which the College of Arts and Science is preparing to welcome the increasing wave of Aboriginal students attending university. More than 1,700 Aboriginal students currently attend the U of S, and nearly half of those students enroll in the College of Arts and Science. While these numbers are impressive and increasing each year, they could be higher if not for a disproportionately high dropout rate amongst first-year Aboriginal students. Programs such as ASAP are designed to provide the supports and engagement these students need to get them past what has historically proven to be a challenging first year of studies.