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PhD pathway

New pathway to increase Aboriginal student participation

special feature: Back to school

Part of a special feature coinciding with the beginning of a new academic year at Memorial University.

By Jennifer Batten

The School of Graduate Studies recently endorsed a new doctoral degree pathway that is intended to increase participation rates of Aboriginal students in graduate programs.

The pathway will establish a clear study plan from the start of a bachelor’s degree to the final stages of a PhD program.

Pathway pilot

The Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences will be the first unit to pilot the pathway concept, which was created in collaboration with the Office of the Special Advisor to the President on Aboriginal Affairs, the School of Graduate Studies and the Internationalization Office.

Catharyn Andersen and Dr. Aimée Surprenant
Catharyn Andersen and Dr. Aimée Surprenant
Photo: Chris Hammond

The program will follow a cohort model of learning, building meaningful and collaborative learning communities for students and establishing clear milestones to help guide them on a successful path to postgraduate studies.

Unique offering

“We believe this is a first-of-its-kind pathway in Canada and a positive step towards addressing the needs of current and prospective Aboriginal students,” said Catharyn Andersen, special advisor to the president on Aboriginal Affairs. “Our hope is that it will help to encourage Aboriginal students to explore post-graduate options and careers that they may have never considered before.”

“Research demonstrates that students are able to attain higher levels of post-secondary achievement when institutions provide clear and well-marked pathways spanning multiple levels,” said Dr. Aimée Surprenant, dean, School of Graduate Studies. “With this pathway, Aboriginal students will be able to clearly see where they are headed in their academics, and what they will need to do to get there.”

Finding the path

Pathways can include a number of components related to curricula, instructional methods and structural supports for students. While such pathways are not common in Canada, existing research supports the notion that these kinds of programs contribute significant to improved outcomes for students by clarifying how they can move forward to the next level in their academic journey.

Sonya Clarke-Casey

Visualizing possibilities

Sonya Clarke-Casey, of Inuit ancestry and a beneficiary of the Nunatsiavut Government,  is a current student in the School of Social Work who has worked in Memorial’s Aboriginal Resource Office. She notes that the new pathway would allow her to continue her studies with a strong sense of community.

“The idea of continuing my education is both exciting and frightening,” said Ms. Clarke-Casey. “Hearing that I could be part of a cohort of students with similar experiences and challenges makes me feel that going on to my master’s or PhD is actually a possibility.

“I like knowing what my options are.” –Sonya Clarke-Casey

“I like knowing what my options are,” she continued. “I have thought about going on to grad school and I’ve even attended an online information session about how to apply, but I stopped there. If I knew that I could receive ongoing support and guidance to navigate the many rules, prerequisites and systems of graduate school at Memorial, then I think this could actually be a reality for me.”

Vital role to play

Students for the new pathway will be identified at the time of undergraduate admission, and up to 10 students will be selected per year, with the program supporting up to 60 students when fully implemented.

Memorial University has a vital role to play in responding to the calls to action outlined in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s report, released last year. This pilot program is just part of the university’s response and work in identifying Aboriginal education best practices and implementing appropriate strategic initiatives to support Aboriginal students. The significant role of education and post-secondary institutions in reconciliation was highlighted in several recommendations from the report, including a focus on increased access to post-secondary education for Aboriginal youth and the need for courses and programming on Aboriginal issues, culture and language.

The pathway also addresses recommendations in Memorial’s Enrolment Plan 2020, the Strategic Research Intensity Plan, and the 2009 Report of the Presidential Task Force on Aboriginal Initiatives.

Information sessions for students interested in the program are expected to take place later this semester. Students who might be interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Aboriginal Resource Office.

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