Two Indigenous science students from Dawson College who created a peer support and tutoring project were recognized last Wednesday with a local Forces Avenir award.
Forces Avenir honours and promotes projects that contribute to the development of socially conscious, active and responsible citizens.
The project called IndigeSTEM was created by Kahnawa’kehró:non Rotshennón:ni Two-Axe and Kayla Spencer-Young, Cree from Chisasibi.
“Both me and Kayla are Journeys’ peer tutors at Dawson, and so we have been working with some Indigenous students since last fall,” said Two-Axe.
The Journeys transition program is an introduction to CEGEP designed for First Nations, Inuit and Metis students at Dawson College. It provides students with the opportunity to complete their prerequisites and obtain credits, according to the college.
“As tutors, we started meeting and discussing what we could do to better support the students that we are working with because we realized that there was a high demand for math support and also for the science courses,” he said.
Spencer-Young said that they decided to have weekly drop-in meetings that started in February where Indigenous students could gather and receive tutoring for different courses.
“With that, we also wanted to help build a community within a community to start to make that network and connections between the different Indigenous students interested in taking the science path,” said the young Kahnawa’kehró:non.
Two-Axe explained that the meetings also provide a safe and culturally-sensitive learning environment for students to engage in.
“Along with the project and the weekly support meetings, we try to coordinate different extracurricular activities making connections between culture and the western scientific knowledge that we are learning in our courses.”
The tutors are also available through Dawson’s Academic Skills Centre as they both take part in the peer tutoring service they provide. Indigenous students can also request private sessions.
Two-Axe has just recently completed his first year in the enriched health science program at the college. After successfully completing the Journeys program, Spencer-Young just finished her first semester in the pure and applied science program.
The feedback from participating students has been really positive, according to Two-Axe.
“In terms of the academics, they have been reaching out and talking about how they are starting to see some of the grades that they are looking for. Even just in the fact that we have students coming consistently to the weekly groups shows the impact that it is having,” said Two-Axe.
“I would say it is definitely needed,” said Spencer-Young. “It’s been more helpful too because you can relate to the other students. It’s less pressure and more comfortable.”
They said that they would like to continue with the project and help out the next batch of students that will start in the fall.
In terms of the award ceremony, Spencer-Young said that she was pleasantly surprised by how nice and big it was.
“It was nice to see the impact our project is having. So, it was really nice,” said Two-Axe.
“We would love to see the students that we are currently working with fill in the shoes and take over and support the next batch of students and continue that cycle.”
During the ceremony, they also received individual awards, including the Committed Student award for Two-Axe and the Persevering Student award for Spencer-Young, which puts them in the running for the provincial Forces Avenir award in September.
“I would like to study astrophysics, but I am open to many fields in science because I am just a curious person in general. I want to help my community,” said Spencer-Young of her future aspirations.
Two-Axe said his dream is to study Medicine at McGill University and would like to integrate western knowledge with traditional knowledge.
“It would be beneficial for the community to have those two worlds come together. And it’s one of the best ways that our people can heal,” he said.
Marisela Amador, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door