Aboriginal high schoolers get taste of UAlberta student life

(Edmonton) Leaving the tight-knit world of high school for a large campus teeming with strangers can be scary for a new student.

That’s why each spring, First Nations, Inuit and Métis high school students from across Alberta are welcomed onto the University of Alberta campus for Aboriginal Student Discovery Day, happening this year on March 15. Packed with events ranging from Lister residence tours to a booth fair, the day is aimed at helping wide-eyed high schoolers feel more at ease taking the next step into the world of higher education.

“We want to give them the experience of finding out what post-secondary education is all about,” said Freda Cardinal, Aboriginal student recruitment co-ordinator for the U of A.

During their whirlwind day on campus, about 60 students from Aboriginal communities are being treated to a formal welcome and opening prayer given by an elder, campus tours and a choice of class sessions ranging this year from time spent with U of A indigenous artist-in-residence Jordan Bennett, to a Faculty of Native Studies seminar comparing historical fact versus Hollywood fiction about General George Custer. Other sessions explore career options in the Faculty of Nursing, look at water quality issues through Engineers Without Borders, and introduce “Tips on TYP,” the U of A’s Transition Year Program for Aboriginal students.

“The students get to see the opportunities that a U of A education provides and it gives them a feel for what a university is. Post-secondary is such a big and scary world. Bringing the kids to campus and giving them a taste of real-life experience takes that fear away.”

Compliments of U of A Residence Services, the students also receive a ONEcard for the day, which they use to eat lunch in the Lister cafeteria, before trooping off to a booth fair that shows the nuts and bolts of university life. There, several faculties share information on their programs, along with the Aboriginal Student Services Centre and other student support groups.

“It is important to give the students time to find out about the campus programs and resources available to them, as well as the things that are part of being a U of A student, like admissions, support services and student life,” Cardinal said.

The day ends with a panel discussion, in which current Aboriginal students share their U of A experiences with the young visitors and answer questions, then a closing prayer and a celebratory round dance.

Cardinal hopes students leave campus with new confidence and a hunger to return after high school graduation. “We’ve given them a connection to the University of Alberta community that we hope endures.”