Supporting Indigenous success
The LE,NONET research project has dramatically improved the culture and climate for Indigenous student access and success at UVic.
Any student entering university can feel a bit out of place. To some extent, this is normal. At its best, post-secondary education is designed to be full of new challenges, offering a wealth of opportunities to explore, test and develop new ideas. What’s more, even a mid-sized college or university campus can be a confusing but exciting, cosmopolitan place. For many students, university is also their first taste of life as an adult, away from the communities where they grew up, and a step away from the expectations and supports of their families and friends.
But for Indigenous students, those challenges have historically been difficult to navigate, with conflicting claims on identity and at a distance from their home communities. At UVic, a range of programs exist to help students from all backgrounds adapt to campus life. And since its inception in 2005, one cornerstone of support for Indigenous students has been the LE,NONET project—named for a Straits Salish term that means “success after enduring many hardships.”
The first program of its kind in Canada, the LE,NONET research project (pronounced le-non-git) has been important in improving Indigenous student success at UVic, and in demonstrating the supports that can be put in place to help Indigenous students at colleges and universities across Canada.
Supporting Indigenous values and community
More importantly, student participants in the project reacted positively to LE,NONET’s work to acknowledge and reinforce Indigenous identity, foster Indigenous community on campus, and value Indigenous practices and ways of knowing. Based around a suite of student-focused programs including peer mentoring, bursaries and emergency relief funds, preparation seminars, community internships and research apprenticeships developed with the support of the Canadian government and with input from Indigenous groups, LE,NONET dramatically improved student outcomes. (There was also an additional program for UVic faculty and staff to support student participants.)
The pilot phase of the program, from 2005 to 2009, proved to be an unqualified success, giving researchers, participants and partners an opportunity to investigate program models for supporting the success of Indigenous students in their university studies by providing a culturally grounded, supportive environment.
Between 2005 and 2009, LE,NONET students experienced:
- 100 per cent increase in term-to-term continuation
- 20 per cent increase in graduation rates
- 67 per cent reduction in withdrawal rates.
LE,NONET participants also remained in their academic programs for an additional year when compared to Indigenous students who didn’t participate in the program.
Continuing the program
Although the pilot phase of LE,NONET wrapped up in 2009, a number of programs developed as part of the widely praised project will continue at UVic.
Thanks to $250,000 in one-time funding from the Government of British Columbia announced in March 2011, LE,NONET will continue to enhance the experience and opportunities of Indigenous students by:
- Increasing the amount of funding for bursaries so that interested students can apply for bursaries for both the summer and winter terms.
- Expanding the elder-in-residence program.
- Doubling the number of research apprenticeships and community internships so that LE,NONET students can experience both programs.
- Expanding the peer mentorship program beyond current UVic Indigenous students to include Indigenous Grade 11 and 12 students in local high schools–easing their transition into university.
- Continuing the research component of the LE,NONET project by tracking the participation of First Nations, Métis and Inuit students and the success of the current LE,NONET students.
A success for students, and for educators
The pilot phase of the LE,NONET project demonstrated that substantial gains could be made in the context of a mainstream university, through a combination of supports and respectful, reciprocal partnerships with Indigenous communities. The benefit is clear: through both LE,NONET and the university’s wider commitment to attract, include and retain Indigenous students, enrolment has gone from fewer than 100 students in 1999 to about 700 today – nearly 150 of whom are graduate students.
That’s a success story worth telling, and passing along.
Success to me means that I can complete my program and while doing that acknowledge my Aboriginal background and be supported by that. And really be able to explore it, and not compromise that background for any achievements in academia.”
— LE,NONET student