A group of Lakehead University students gathered on Oct. 28 in the Faculty Lounge for the Aboriginal Mentorship Program Volunteer Cultural Training Day, which prepares students to volunteer as mentors for elementary and high school students in schools across northwestern Ontario.

By Rick Garrick

THUNDER BAY – Pays Plat’s Amanda Michano recently participated in Lakehead University’s Aboriginal Mentorship Program Volunteer Cultural Training Day on Oct. 28 after volunteering with the program last year.

“It’s pretty much really impacted my life because I love working with students one-on-one and trying to promote post-secondary education because (when I was) growing up that wasn’t a big part of my life and interest,” says the fourth-year Applied Bio-Molecular Science student. “A lot of the students are really motivated and driven, but some aren’t so it’s really important to instill education into the system.”

Michano encourages other Lakehead University students to volunteer with the Aboriginal Mentorship Program.

“This is a really open environment and everyone just makes you feel very comfortable,” Michano says. “Even if you’ve never worked one-on-one with a student before, this program really helps you build a relationship with another person.”

Michano is also currently reaching out to students through the six-week InSTEM outreach program at Kingsway Park Public School in Thunder Bay.

“We go into the school system and teach about STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — and we incorporate that into activities,” Michano says. “Recently it’s about the birchbark canoe, so we teach students about the science and technology behind that.”

Constance Lake’s Tina Achneepineskum, a third-year Indigenous Learning student, enjoyed the Aboriginal Mentorship Program trip to Marathon last year.

“It went well — the students I met there engaged in a lot of the activities that we did with them,” Achneepineskum says. “What I noticed was that they knew a lot about Canadian history. And I noticed a lot of them practice the culture and traditional ceremonies.”

Shoal Lake #40’s Amy Lacombe, a fourth-year Concurrent Education student, enjoyed reaching out to Indigenous students through the Aboriginal Mentorship Program.

“We really clear up some of the perceptions they might have about university,” Lacombe says. “And they get to have that hands-on experience where they can see what university is like and they see all the options that are out there for them.”

About 30-40 Lakehead University undergrads, graduates and PhD students volunteer with the program each year.

“We will be going into schools across northwestern Ontario,” says Lisa Harris, coordinator of the Aboriginal Mentorship Program. “So we usually try to do a day of cultural training (for the volunteers) as well as just going through what exactly we will be doing in the classroom. The basic part of the program is to provide encouragement and inspiration to youth to get them thinking about postsecondary education and career opportunities.”

Harris says the program has grown “immensely” since it began four years ago. The program provides elementary and high school students with information about classes they would take and the types of careers they could pursue with different university degrees.

“In the first year we worked with 40 youth,” Harris says. “And in this past year we worked with over 3,000 youth, so it really shows that it is a great program and there is a lot of need for it. It helps get kids on campus and confident in the university, finding their way around and feeling like they belong here.”

Harris says some of the students who were mentored by the Aboriginal Mentorship Program volunteers are now pursuing postsecondary studies at Lakehead University.

“We’ve had some wonderful success stories — kids that have been really inspired by their mentor or even an activity that we’ve done,” Harris says. “And that’s totally changed their career path.”