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New program brings Aboriginal youth to campus

Sixty Aboriginal middle and high school students from across Ontario will be visiting Queen’s next month to experience life at university.

The new Aboriginal University Experience gives Aboriginal students in grades seven through 12 the opportunity to spend four days and three nights on campus, where they will gain exposure to university academics, extra-curricular activities and life in residence. Students will take a series of workshop-based courses, and they will live in residence, eat in our dining halls, participate in social activities and attend special events.

The all-abilities program is a collaboration among the Enrichment Studies Unit (ESU), Aboriginal Access to Engineering (AAE) and the Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre (FDASC).

“This focused program was developed to help Aboriginal youth picture themselves as university students and reduce anxiety related to their educational future,” says ESU Manager Andy Mills. “The idea was that if we could get them here, show them around and have them experience what university has to offer, they may be more likely to see post-secondary as a real option.”

The ESU has offered enrichment programs for over 25 years and has welcomed many Aboriginal students.

“My students are usually a little nervous at first, but by the end of the session, they don't want to leave,” says Lisa Zeran, a teacher with the Ahkwesahsne Mohawk Board of Education. “The early university experience has opened up my students to the possibility of post-secondary education and has helped them to see that they have the potential within themselves to reach their goals.”

Aboriginal Access to Engineering Director Melanie Howard says showing these students the diverse fields of study that exist beyond high school can have a big impact. “Reaching out to these students is so important and this program is really designed to help them see themselves as a university student.”

The grade seven and eight students will be exposed to academic subjects from a variety of disciplines, while the program’s high school students can focus on either applied science or creative arts.

“This partnership has allowed us to offer a much larger program than in previous years,” says Ashley Maracle, a Queen’s graduate who now works as the Aboriginal Community Outreach Liaison with Four Directions. “This specialized program will offer interesting academic courses, fun extra-curricular activities and culturally fulfilling, Aboriginal-focused events. It really is the best of both worlds and offers something for everyone.”

Aboriginal University Experience runs from May 14 to 17, 2013. Registration is currently underway. Visit the ESU website for more information.