Widening Participation to University – Aussie style

By: Samantha Avitaia – Manager, University of Wollongong Bega Campus

In the Bega Valley on the south-east coast of Australia, less than 15% of people have a University qualification as opposed to 42% in major Australian cities (ABS Census data 2016).

Since 2011, the Outreach and Pathways Unit at the University of Wollongong (UOW) in Australia has worked in partnership with the Department of Education (DoE) NSW, the Catholic Education Office (CEO) in Wollongong, Canberra and Goulburn and local school partners to ensure that individuals from our local community, regardless of their background, have the opportunity to access higher education. Our work is enriched through these partnerships and through engagement with individuals in schools and communities, enabling us to effectively implement age appropriate activities to build their awareness of higher education and develop children’s skills and knowledge to help them gain entry.

The UOW regional campus in Bega NSW is a very small rural university campus with under 200 students enrolled and a student body made up largely of non-“traditional” students including low socio-economic background, Indigenous, mature-age and students who are also family carers.

Despite, or perhaps rather because of these challenges, our little campus manages to run school outreach programs with over 1600 students per year in our rural areas to encourage participation in Higher Education. Ranging from Primary School Year 6 students to those in their final Years of High School, all of our programs are mentor led by current rural university students, sharing their challenges, fears and joys about Higher Education to those who attended the same schools.

We also host free purpose-built bridging programs alongside vocational education providers to encourage mature-age students to continue their vocational education onto university.

Our programs include:

Year 6 In2Uni

Consisting of a teacher-delivered module and an on-campus day at their local UOW campus, the Kids In2Uni Program aims to help students begin building a positive and lasting connection with university. Students and parents participate in taster sessions, run by UOW faculties, career discovery activities, and toured the campus with current university mentors. This program introduces Year 6 students to the idea of higher education beyond school and starts conversations about their future career paths and options.
Year 6 students engaged with In2Uni activities.
Year 6 Kids In2Uni

Year 8 Future Me

Delivered in schools by In2Uni Mentors, the three-hour workshops consist of students being introduced to the language of higher education, and recognising the links between their own interests, curriculum and study options after high school that could lead to potential careers.The workshops culminate in students developing short and long-term goals for their academic study, and they were provided with a suite of additional resources to utilise throughout their high school progression.

Year 8 students in the Future Me program pose for a group photo.
Year 8 Future Me

Year 10 Future Finder

Through a range of higher education taster sessions (including university and vocational options), and participation in goal setting activities, students gained a taste of what it is like to engage in post-school study and explore potential future careers. Consisting of a teacher-delivered module and an on-campus event day for Year 10 students, the Future Finder Program is designed to help better inform students during their senior high school subject decision process.
Year 10 students engage in vocation/career exploration activities
Year 10 Future Finder

Year 11 HSC (Higher School Certificate) Bootcamps

This program was designed to give students an insight into the HSC and help to prepare them for their senior studies. The program was delivered by current university students who have recently completed and been successful in their HSC, and who have previously attended a local high school. The program focuses on tips for approaching the HSC, soft study skills and what students could expect over the coming 18 months. The topics covered in the workshop included exam preparation, goal setting, decision making, note taking, and how to build a positive learner identity.

Year 11 Higher School Certificate (HSC) Bootcamp participants.
Year 11 HSC Bootcamp participants

Indigenous Careers Program

This is a collaborative program run by Indigenous and non-Indigenous staff and students from university, TAFE (Technical and Further Education) Vocational Education and AIME (the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience). Aimed at providing personalised career and education pathway advice and support to local Indigenous students, information and support includes; Career exploration, TAFE and University entry options and scholarship information, apprenticeship and traineeship advice. Indigenous presenters from local industries are also invited to share their career stories and progression. The program is interwoven with personal stories and artwork.

Students taking part in the Indigenous Careers Program.
Students taking part in the Indigenous Careers Program.

Year 12 University Preparation Program

Run over two school terms, the University Preparation Program (UPP) provides Year 12 students with the opportunity to improve their HSC study skills through tailored study sessions with trained In2Uni mentors. Students who participated in the UPP attend on-campus study centres each week for 90 minutes. During these sessions, students receive transition advice, support in applying for Early Admissions at UOW, and discuss post-high school options. Designed for students who are unclear about their higher education pathway, the UPP aims to give students a taste of what university life is like, and support their aspirations as they consider their career pathways.
Year 12 UPP students pose for a group photo.
Year 12 UPP students pose for a group photo.

Pathways to Higher Education

The Pathways to Higher Education Program aims to increase the awareness of pathways options and attainment of individuals to access higher education. Designed to improve the participation of low SES, mature-aged, and Indigenous people in higher education, particularly targeting non-school leavers, the Pathways to Higher Education Program provides an opportunity for individuals to increase their employment outcomes by offering them tangible information, opportunities and pathways to access higher education.This is achieved through: Building awareness and opportunities to access pathways to higher education through Vocational qualifications; Providing access to sponsorship; and Offering a Bridging Program to assist students’ transition to higher education.

Pathways to Higher Education students relax on campus.
Pathways to Higher Education students relax on campus.

Gaming to Uni

I first met Tricia Seifert at the 2018 ISFIRE – International Symposium for Innovation in Rural Education in Montana and was immediately taken by the Success Prints Crash Course board game as a fabulous tool for demystifying university for school and first-year university students alike. Despite our geographical and cultural differences, we are doing very similar work on opposite sides of the globe.

We have formed a connection along with University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa and are now testing the game in our rural locations, contextualizing the play and scenarios in partnership with our students. I am very excited to be working on this project and look forward to seeing what the Australian version of Success Prints Crash Course becomes and how it complements our widening participation efforts.

Samantha Avitaia is the Manager, University of Wollongong Bega Campus.

Supporting Indigenous STEM Students

By: Noah Arney & Michelle Pidgeon

The disparity of post-secondary education (PSE) completion between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians (40% vs. 55.3%) continues to persist (Statistics Canada, 2016). Unfortunately, the disparity is wider when we compare undergraduate degree completion between Indigenous (8.6%) and non-Indigenous Canadians (23.25%). The gap of post-secondary completion (certificate, diploma, degree, and above) specific to the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields is even wider. Indigenous people are half as likely to have STEM based PSE (4.1% vs. 10%), and for those with STEM Bachelors degree and above, the gap moves to being a fifth as likely (1.1% vs. 5.7%).

In 2012 Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta created the Aboriginal Science & Technology Education Program (ASTEP) to support the growth of Indigenous STEM students in the Faculty of Science and Technology. This program operated from 2012-2019 and represented one of three Indigenous specific STEM programs offered specifically at the university level in Canada.  To understand the impact and influence of this program an external review was conducted in 2017 following Indigenous research processes (Kovach, 2009; Pidgeon & Hardy Cox, 2002). This process included an analysis of institutional data, comparisons with similar programs, and interviews and sharing circles with students, staff, and faculty who were closely associated with ASTEP.

From the participants in the review, ASTEP was valued for its relationship building, wholistic student support, faculty support, and creating a sense of belonging for Indigenous students in the Faculty and more broadly at MRU. This was done through intentional programming and practices by the ASTEP coordinator, faculty, and staff from the Iniskim Centre at MRU all of who had a shared aim of supporting ASTEP students and broader Indigenous communities through programming for Indigenous youth.

Relational Student Services

Relationship building with students was the basis of most of the successes. This was accomplished by frequent interaction in person, electronically, and over the phone. These interactions were spread across the various events and supports offered by ASTEP. Relationship building across academic faculties and other units was accomplished by frequent interaction both formally and informally, both connected with ASTEP directly and as part of the broader University community.

Indigenous students specifically valued the academic advising, tutoring in Indigenous-centered spaces, Indigenous speaker series, Lunch and Learns, Dean’s lunches, and Elder support.  Faculty valued the professional development provided to them, assisting with curriculum development with Indigenous peoples, and organizing meetings with Elders and other knowledge keepers. Students and faculty involved in ASTEP valued the community and sense of support that was created through these various aspects of the program. The collaborations involved in ASTEP provided a welcoming and safe environment, and established relationships of trust and mutual respect.

Intergenerational mentoring with faculty, staff, and students was created through ASTEP that was another core theme emerging from the evaluation that as a program strength. Bringing role models to the institution through the Indigenous Science Speakers Series and other events and programming helped Indigenous students put themselves forward as role models for incoming university students and high school students. Through meeting Indigenous scientists and professionals, ASTEP students could go beyond imagining themselves as Indigenous STEM professionals but becoming such professionals through the meeting role models who were established in such careers. Their responsibility to give back and help the next generation continued for some ASTEP alumni who after they graduated continued to work with the Iniskim Centre and Faculty of Science to mentor the new students.

Successes Found

There was clearly value and impact of the program. From the review of institutional data, the Indigenous STEM student population doubled in five years, and now accounts for 4.2% of students in the Faculty of Science & Technology, up from 1.7% in 2011. Institutional data showed the average GPA remained in line with non-Indigenous students throughout the program while the retention rate of Indigenous students was higher than for non-Indigenous students at 87.4%. This was 10% higher than for non-Indigenous students. Pre-ASTEP retention was unable to be determined due to low student numbers. The ASTEP data challenges stereotypes about Indigenous students not being as committed or academically capable as non-Indigenous students. It also provides support for Indigenous specific programming that is aimed at supporting Indigenous student success and persistence in STEM related programming.

Challenges Faced

Two of the biggest challenges with a program like ASTEP are student time/engagement and sustainable funding. ASTEP worked on the first by having a full-time program administrator who was able to work one on one with students and adjust his schedule to better serve the student population. The coordinator acted as a liaison between the STEM faculty and the Indigenous student services, along with direct supports for Indigenous STEM students. While the program was initially funded externally through corporate funding, and when this source was not renewed, the ASTEP program was closed due to lack of institutional and/or external support. As an interim measure, many different groups on campus have taken up elements of ASTEP to ensure the students are supported until institutional funding can be secured.

Integrating Into Your Practice

Other post-secondary institutions could utilize a similar Wholistic Support Model to support the Indigenous STEM students at their schools. The Indigenous Wholistic Framework (Pidgeon, 2014) utilized by Dr. Michelle Pidgeon in her review of the program is a good model example for Indigenous post-secondary student support. The key feature of Pidgeon’s (2014) model is the “interconnectedness of the intellectual, spiritual, emotional, and physical realms” (p. 10) which are themselves connected with the relational connection of the individual to their community and beyond.  

Indigenous Wholistic Framework (Pidgeon, 2014)
Figure 1. Indigenous Wholistic Framework (Pidgeon, 2014)

The following activities, as described in Figure 2, provide some examples of how to support Indigenous STEM students.

Wholistic Supports for Indigenous Stem Students
Figure 2. Wholistic Supports for Indigenous STEM students

As you can see in Figure 2, there are many opportunities for post-secondary institutions to increase their support for Indigenous STEM students. Many institutions support Indigenous students through advising and tutoring. But the intellectual domain is more than that. Students must be given examples of other Indigenous people who have succeeded at what they are accomplishing, and faculty and staff must learn about the perspectives and backgrounds of Indigenous students. The core though is integrating support for the whole person rather than simply supporting a student’s intellectual success. It is this focus on the whole person that led to the successes of ASTEP, and it can also lead to success in other post-secondary institutions.

The Whole Student

The support of students physically may be seen in two different ways. First the support of students’ physical needs such as ensuring that students don’t need to choose between accessing supports and eating. Second is the use of land-based events and activities which would vary by the region the post-secondary institution is in.

Supporting the emotional and spiritual growth of a student is something that can be done both in conjunction with a wellness centre on campus or could be done in Indigenous student supports. Many institutions have Elders in residence or visiting Elders. Connecting students between programs and between years to create peer supports can be very beneficial. Most important though is the concept of building relations between students and between students and staff and faculty. This creates a feeling of safety and a sense of belonging that helps support students as they progress through post-secondary. Supporting this feeling of belonging is ensuring students have access to cultural supports and ceremonies as they require. Separating the spiritual domain from the rest of the person is not something that is supported by Indigenous educational philosophy. Intellectually, Indigenous students can be supported through peer-tutoring, having faculty members who have been trained around culturally relevant pedagogy and curriculum, and having direct connections of what they are learning to their future career aspirations (e.g., co-op, mentorship with professionals).

Increasing the number of Indigenous students in STEM fields is a worthy goal for any post-secondary institution. Providing support specifically for Indigenous STEM students was shown to be beneficial at MRU. From this program, there are many sharable lessons to support Indigenous students in STEM fields and we hope other institutions take up this work and develop supports, programs, and services for their Indigenous students.

Noah Arney is Work Experience Coordinator – Bachelor of Computer Information Systems, Career Services at Mount Royal University. Dr. Michelle Pidgeon is Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University and Director, Centre for the Study of Educational Leadership & Policy (CSELP) and SAGE (Supporting Aboriginal Graduate Enhancement).

References

Kovach, M. (2009). Indigenous methodologies: Characteristics, conversations, and contexts. Buffalo: University of Toronto Press.

Pidgeon, M (2014). Moving Beyond Good Intentions: Indigenizing higher education in British Columbia universities through institutional responsibility and accountability. Journal of American Indian Education, 53(2), 7-28.

Pidgeon, M., & Hardy Cox, D. (2002). Researching with Aboriginal peoples: practices and principles. Canadian Journal of Native Education, 26(2), 96-106.

Statistics Canada (2016). Census of Population, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-400-X2016263. Ottawa: Statistics Canada.

Tapping into students’ experiences and expertise for innovation and program development: Beyond tokenism

 

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Image source: Logical Campaign

Posted by Diliana Peregrina-Kretz

I have been thinking about the role of students in the development and expansion of programs and services in post-secondary education.  In part I have been thinking about partnerships with students because we recently reviewed proposals for our upcoming panel at CSSHE on collaborative approaches in achieving student success. I was so impressed with the different ways staff across various institutions involve their students in developing innovative programs and services. Tapping into students’ expertise and experience provides us with a lens that is student-oriented; one that other students can relate to.

As staff we have a whole lot of expertise and knowledge about the field of higher education; we rely on theories and research to develop/expand new programs and services; we attend conferences to enrich our knowledge and learn about innovative practices in the field; and we rely on our experiences as professionals and on the experiences and advice of our colleagues. However, there is an underused resource; the expertise of our own students. We are often so preoccupied with developing programs and services for our students that we forget about what they can contribute in this process. When I say contribute, I mean going beyond having students sit in a meeting and provide their opinion; this is a great  and important way to involve students but there is a more active role that they can play as partners and collaborators.

During the data collection process of the Supporting Student Success research project we heard from students who were disappointed in the way their contribution was incorporated in either the decision-making process at their institution or in the development of a program/service. Students expressed frustration when their input was just that: input. These students explained that they felt as though they were “tokens” in the process and not true partners or collaborators.

Other students who had been truly involved as partners and collaborators, where their input and ideas were implemented or seriously considered had very positive experiences. They expressed having gained new knowledge and skills when working with staff or faculty and being able to translate this into a tangible outcome: resume building and leadership skills (among others).

Students as collaborators and partners provide us with a unique opportunity to know what is truly happening on our campuses. Our students are great partners because they know firsthand how they and their peers can benefit from an improved program or service or how to improve different aspects of their experience.  They can help troubleshoot our programs, provide us with feedback and suggestions, and overall make the program/service more student-oriented.

In addition, many of our students have skills and experiences that can truly enrich our services and programs, and overall our own knowledge. We are so fortunate to work at institutions where we have diverse expertise available at our fingertips. We have students who are majoring in marketing that can help us develop our next campaign; students who are creative designers who can help us create our program branding; students who are social media savvy that can advise us on how to reach more students.  The list is long.

Students’ expertise that is available to us is endless. However, a true partnership with students is beyond getting their help and input. It is about providing something in return to students that improves their own skills, develops their leadership abilities, and overall enriches their experiences on our campuses. When partnering with students, we need to consider how we can provide a unique and enriching experience; whether this is providing them with mentorship and guidance or extending our resources to them (e.g. connections to other colleagues, stipends, attending conferences etc.).

We are creative, innovative, and knowledgeable people, and so are our students.  Together, we can develop meaningful partnerships that enrich their experiences and assist us in program development.

I would love to hear how you have engaged students by making them a partner and collaborator at your institution – please share in the comments section.