A handful of high school students got a glimpse of higher learning from Algoma University.
“To commemorate and celebrate National Indigenous History Month, we wanted to have activities across all of our campuses,” said Paul Sayers, the manager of Indigenous community relations, training and development for Algoma University. “So this event is specifically geared towards high school students who are of Indigenous descent.”
Algoma invited the Ontario North East District School Board (DSB1), Northeastern Catholic District School Board (NCDSB) and Mattagami First Nation to take part in the event.
“We’re promoting education, maybe considering post-secondary education at Algoma University or post-secondary education in general which is something that we’re aiming for,” said Sayers.
Four students from O’Gorman High School attended the event and heard from recruiters and support staff on what their options are through Algoma University and their partnership with Northern College.
Ryan Plante, an Indigenous support worker with NCDSB, said the information can be very helpful for students who might not see themselves in a post-secondary setting.
“It’s the idea of getting a lot more opportunities for Indigenous students who are interested in pursuing a post-secondary degree, the idea of having more options, more availability,” he said. “Understanding that there is a program specifically designed for Indigenous students allows them to feel that comfortable and that they have their palace in this area.”
Giving students this information can make a big difference, said Plante.
“It can be very intimidating,” he said. “The fact that they can do these pathways here and not have to travel farther away from home, they might want to pursue that here and feel more comfortable.”
The students received information on cultural supports, life on campus, and future programs during the event and some of that information came from first-hand experience as both Keyra Gallo and Amber Jones are alumni of Algoma University.
Jones is the Anishinaabe student success and cultural social events program co-ordinator, and she said that cultural events and inclusion mean higher success rates for Indigenous students.
“It really grounds them, and makes them more humble, and gives them lessons to live by,” he said.
Learning more about her culture during her own studies helped her feel more confident.
“Learning about the culture really gave me a sense of identity, of pride and it really gave me more self-esteem,” said Jones. “Since then I’ve continued learning.”
Gallo, who is an enrolment specialist, said that the supports for students wanting to attend Algoma University aim to be wrap-around.
“We help them with the next steps from high school, with how to apply, the best course of action, getting transcripts and assessing, getting them admitted and sending out the offer,” said Gallo.
She said that there is a specific recruiter in place for First Nation, Metis and Inuit students.
“Since it is a smaller group, they create such a great relationship with each other,” Gallo said. “You get to know their faces, who they are, and their story.”
One of those programs is part of the MOU recently signed with Mattagami First Nation, and involves land-based educational camps for high school students.
The camp will focus on science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM), which Tammy Cayer-Dokis said fits perfectly with Indigenous ways of learning and knowing.
“When you look at the construction of a canoe, for example, you have science, technology, engineering, you have mathematics, all-encompassing in building a canoe,” said Cayer-Dokis, who is a professor of Indigenous Studies at Canadore College and coordinator at Kikandaasawiwin Mookiisin Indigenous STEAM program. “For Indigenous people, they built a canoe, they would decorate it, they would make it aesthetically pleasing, but it’s also a practical item.”
Algoma University will be expanding its programs in Timmins, including a Master’s program in computer sciences, and MOUs with Mattagami First Nation and Mushkegowuk Council.
The MOU with Mushkegowuk Council is set to be signed tomorrow.
Asima Vezina, president and vice-chancellor of Algoma University spent some time speaking with the students about what their experience could be, and the future of the programs available through Algoma.
“There are incredible pathways right here so people don’t need to leave,” said Vezina. “We are at a point where you can earn a diploma, a degree and a masters in computer science in five years without leaving your community, and in social work, they can do two years at college, two in university and then the two years masters, and that’s coming within the next year.”
She highlighted the opportunities available to students as the job market expanded in the North.
“There are pathways here to very good employment here,” said Vezina.