USask mentorship program encouraging Indigenous high school students

Connecting Indigenous high school students with university mentors is part of a new program called BIRM at the University of Saskatchewan. Sheila Naytowhow

A new program provides an opportunity for Indigenous high school students to build mentoring relationships with university students at the University of Saskatchewan.

The Building Intercultural Resilience Mentorship Program draws on diverse volunteers from USask to work with indigenous students from Bedford Road Collegiate and Mount Royal Collegiate. The two high schools have the highest number of Indigenous students in the Saskatoon Public School Division.

“Changing the mentality around long-term goals and how they see themselves in schools is a big goal for me for these high school students,” said Nahanni Olson, BIRM Program Coodinator. “So, when they’re ready to move on past high school, they have a better idea of the supports, and the skills that they need to achieve their goals.”

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The idea for the BIRM program came from Jacqueline Ottman, the president at the First Nations University of Canada. She was a former professor and vice-provost of Indigenous engagement at USask. Olson took over the program in March 2021.

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There are 17 university volunteer mentors who commit a few hours a week to the BIRM program.

“It’s an important program for me to be part of because I gain from it as well,” said Jocelyn Chief, BIRM mentor. “We’re able to help the students with any assignments they may be struggling with. We talk to them about their future goals and they can ask us mentors about what university is like, and what it’s like to be an Indigenous student on campus.”

Interest in BIRM from the two high schools is growing.

“Everyday I’m getting new applications,” said Olson. “There’s almost fifty students who have signed up between the two high schools.”

Chiara Martell, a Grade 12 student at Bedford Road Collegiate, says the BIRM program is a great way to get more information about entering university. Martell has plans to study criminal psychology or law. She said programs like this are important to show high school students about a potential future after high school.

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“Probably most of the kids that are Indigenous at my school probably don’t think that they’re smart enough or have the ability to get in,” said Martell. “But with BIRM, I’m certain it’s possible.”

For more information on the BIRM program, people are encouraged to check out the USask’s website under the Office of the Vice-Provost Indigenous Engagement.

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