Described as an “opt-in” program, ISAP connects students with faculty, staff, alumni, Elders, and Indigenous peers through a combination of academic and extracurricular programs. For example, ISAP’s freshman learning communities bring together students with common academic goals in popular freshman classes, as well as for weekly meetings with senior-year Indigenous peer mentors.
There are other benefits to joining ISAP, including dedicated and culturally appropriate instructors; subject-specific tutorials; financial advocacy and scholarships; support for inter-college transfers, vocational college admissions and career preparation; celebrations and cultural engagement throughout the school year; and ISAP Summer Start, an annual orientation event held at the USask campus in Saskatoon in August.
Since the program’s launch in 2012, ISAP’s programming has evolved and expanded in response to emerging opportunities as well as student and Indigenous community priorities. For example, in 2017, ISAP began offering non-credit science preparatory courses—Chemistry 90, Physics 90, Biology 90, and a developmental math lab—to students entering first-year college underprepared for study in science and professional STEM (science, technology, mathematics and engineering programs). The 90-level courses are part of the STEM Acceleration Certificate, created with support from SaskPower, to help expand students’ post-secondary program options and to meet 30-level (high school) science prerequisites for USask programs.
The roots of SIAP date back to 2011, when the position of Associate Dean of Indigenous Affairs, now called Indigenous Associate Dean, was created in the College of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Kristina Bidwell (PhD), a faculty member in the Department of English, was the first person to hold this position, and she and other college leaders were interested in increasing Indigenous student success and engagement.
Looking at the statistics, Bidwell and his colleagues found that many first-year Indigenous students did not return to college for a second year of study. However, statistics also indicated that returning Indigenous students eventually graduated with similar success to their non-Indigenous counterparts.
Identifying the retention of first-year Indigenous students as a critical “sticking point,” Bidwell and his colleagues realized that more needed to be done to support student academic success. ISAP was created accordingly.
“Our approach was to do everything we could to create a community environment from year one,” she said.
Developing ISAP has been “a huge team effort” at the College of Arts and Sciences, Bidwell said, with faculty and staff working together creatively to address the challenges and opportunities of delivering the courses, class sizes, academic advice, peer mentoring, tutoring, cultural programming and more.
“We worked with the Learning Communities program to create Indigenous-only learning communities, meaning groups of Indigenous students who typically took three courses together, in classrooms with only Indigenous students “, she said. “It really took departments to commit to creating these small classes.”
The college has also ensured that there is an effective and holistic approach to academic counseling for Indigenous students with the establishment of the Trish Monture Center in 2014.