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New program empowers Aboriginal students to reach their full potential
Okanagan College Media Release

Okanagan College’s Aboriginal student population has grown by more than 208 per cent over the last seven years – the fastest rate of any post-secondary institution in the province.

To respond to this exploding growth, Okanagan College developed the Academy of Indigenous Scholars through the generous support of a $40,000 grant from the Vancouver Foundation.

The Academy of Indigenous Scholars is a culturally relevant program developed to support first-year Aboriginal students. The goal of the program is to empower students to take greater control of their education and fully utilize the services Okanagan College offers.

This program comes from a place of advantage, not disadvantage,” says James Coble, Director of Student Services and former Aboriginal Access and Services Coordinator at Okanagan College. 

“We know these students can be successful and we’re here to facilitate their abilities, help them set goals for themselves and get the most out of their education.” 

The program is open to all self-declared Indigenous students in their first year of university-level arts, science and business programs starting in September 2014. An Indigenous student is anyone who declares himself or herself to be of First Nation (status or non-status), Metis or Inuit descent.

The Academy of Indigenous Scholars is accepting 30 students across Okanagan College: 15 in Kelowna, and five from each campus in Penticton, Vernon and Salmon Arm.  

“Acceptance into the program isn’t based on grades. What’s important is students’ commitment to carrying through with the program to the end of the year,” says Coble.

Each student will meet with the Aboriginal Access and Services Coordinator and develop an individual achievement plan. Each plan lays out recommendations based on that student’s particular circumstances. 

For example, some students may benefit from counseling and peer mentorship, while another might want to focus on utilizing study tutorials and one-on-one sessions with faculty.

The program launches in September. Students must be enrolled in at least three university transfer courses in each of the fall and winter semesters to be accepted. Once the individual achievement plan is developed, it’s up to each participating student to carry out it out. At the end of the school year, if the student has fulfilled their program’s academic requirements and executed the plan to their Coordinator’s satisfaction, they will receive a $400 bursary. 

There are four pillars of services that Indigenous Scholars can take advantage of:

Intellectual: Tutorial, study skills and exam prep sessions, advising and tutoring
Emotional: Transition planning, peer mentor and counselling
Spiritual: One-on-ones with Elders, peer counselling, access to community sweat lodges and weekly smudges
Physical: Recreational activities, financial aid, and disability services 

“We’re focusing on helping students develop their whole selves not just the academic component of their education,” says Coble.

Research suggest that those students who are in touch with their emotional needs and cultural heritage, do have a greater chance of success because they can draw on that strength to navigate their way through the system,” he says. 

Interested students should visit at www.okanagan.bc.ca/indigenousacademy for more information. 


About Vancouver Foundation

With almost 1,500 funds and assets totaling $814 million, Vancouver Foundation is Canada’s largest community foundation. In 2012, Vancouver Foundation and its donors made more than 4,000 grants, totaling approximately $46 million to registered charities across Canada. Since it was founded in 1943, Vancouver Foundation, in partnership with its donors, has distributed more than $917 million to thousands of community projects and programs. Grant recipients range from social services to medical research groups, to organizations devoted to arts and culture, the environment, education, children and families, disability supports for employment, youth issues and animal welfare. To find out more visit: vancouverfoundation.ca.