August 23, 2019 —
Last year, Tayller Peltier-McKinney, an Ojibway student from Winnipeg, participated in Path2Math Summer Academy for Indigenous Students. This summer, the Access Program student returns as a peer mentor at the week-long summer academy, sharing her enthusiasm for university and learning after a successful first year of studies at the U of M. Path2Math is a collaboration between the Access Program and the Department of Mathematics.
“Tayller did really well in the academy last year,” says Emily McKinnon, Access Program science instructor and Path2Math co-organizer with Darja Barr, mathematics instructor. “When she took her fall math course, she was confident and ready for it.”
The second annual Path2Math Summer Academy was held from August 19 to 23. Thirteen Indigenous students, 12 of them entering the Access Program in September, gathered on the U of M Fort Garry campus for a week to improve their math and enjoy activities including a scavenger hunt exploring campus resources, wall climbing, art, and a field-based math activity counting Chickadees. This year, they re-captured a chickadee that had been first tagged last year with the Path2Math class of 2018. Students also spent an hour a day on English to start to prepare for academic reading and writing.
This year’s students come from places including Norway House, Peguis First Nation, God’s Lake,Hollow Water First Nation, Little Saskatchewan First Nation, Sandy Bay First Nation, and Vancouver. “Some have just moved to the city. It’s a great time for them to learn about resources available to them, and to explore the campus as a group.”
Path2Math started with a math knowledge check, and all students improved their math over the week thanks to self-study with an artificial intelligence program called ALEKS. “Everyone works at their own level. It starts with a short assessment test and they do customized learning modules for the rest of the week, then they see how much they have learned.”
Building skills, connections, and confidence
Supported by the U of M Indigenous Initiatives Fund, the idea is for new U of M students to build their math skills and connect with some of their peers and instructors, so they are prepared to begin their studies with confidence, says McKinnon. “We try to target the Access students who are not going into sciences first. We know many other students put off their required math credit and that can become a barrier to graduation. We tackle math with them when they are still fresh from their high school math, and build them up for success.”
At least eight of the students participating in the summer program have already signed up for their math course this fall, and will study with Barr, the math instructor they met through the program.
Among them is Desni Simard, an Oji-Cree Métis student from Garden Hill First Nation who begins her first year of university with Access this fall.
“This has been really helpful and insightful experience, especially the math component. I love math but I am not good at it,” says Simard. “The math program was personalized for each student. I am looking forward to Darja’s class. I already know the professor.”
Simard was encouraged to apply to the Access Program by her mother. Her sister is an Access student too. “I am going into U1. I am still considering my options. I might go into Education.”
New this year was a storytelling and art session with Anishinaabe Art Educator, Victoria McIntosh. The recent Education grad, Access student, and artist, shared words and concepts from art. Anishinaabe language and culture, and encouraged them to take care of themselves and to sketch and paint with confidence.
The students tried their hand at sketching a loon, or maang in the Anishinaabe language. McIntosh encouraged them to start with basic shapes, drawing what they saw before them and transforming it on their paper. Then she asked them to transfer it to a canvas. “If you don’t like what you have done, change it up,” she says. “Keep what you create. One day, you will see it in a different way.”
Participating students are provided with a financial incentive of $100 bursary per day, and lunch is included. The week wrapped up with a sharing circle with Access Unkan (Grandfather-in-Residence) Wanbdi Wakita, so participants could reflect and talk about the entire experience.
The Access Program, offered through Extended Education at the U of M, provides holistic support to Indigenous, newcomer, and other U of M students, empowering them on their path to success.