When Ottawa Police Constable Jafeth Maseruka was in high school, his primary focus was on basketball and socializing. While he was a star on the court, Maseruka didn’t qualify for post-secondary education and it wasn’t that important to him.
In 1998, former Ravens’ basketball coach Paul Armstrong recruited Maseruka and told him about the University’s unique Enriched Support Program (ESP), then a fledgling innovation that promised to help students transition from high school into university and reach their true potential.
It changed his life, says Maseruka, who eventually completed a law degree at Carleton and became a police officer. And it has changed the lives of more than 3,200 others over its 20-year history, which it celebrates this October.
Founded in 1996 by Aviva Freedman and Dennis Forcese of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, the program initially addressed gaps in admission policies that didn’t recognize personal situations behind poor high school grades. Today, the one-year program, housed by the Centre for Initiatives in Education (CIE), helps nearly 300 students prepare for degree programs annually. Its Aboriginal student stream (AESP), introduced in 2003, attracts Aboriginal students to post-secondary education and supports their needs.
Every September, a new cohort enrols in a first-year seminar and two elective courses. They receive academic support in small weekly workshops, academic coaching, time management support, and advice about their goals and options. They might be mature learners returning to studies after an absence, high school students who lack academic confidence or focus, refugees, single parents, disabled students, cancer survivors.
Tim Pychyl, CIE director since 2012, has been associated with the ESP program since its outset. He shares the same educational philosophy as its founders to focus on the well-being of the student.
“The ESP provides a structure that helps them succeed,” says Pychyl. “Our peer helpers come in three flavours: mentors, facilitators and coaches.”
The CIE’s peer training is an important leadership opportunity for senior students. “You see young people flourish by taking on new responsibilities and learning new skills. The mentors, only one year out of the program, are chosen for their work ethic as models of how to succeed. They help new students in the first-year seminars make the transition. The facilitators are senior undergrads and grads chosen for excelling in their academics. And the coaches, also senior undergrads and grads, work one-on-one with students on particular assignments.”
AESP coordinator Rodney Nelson instructs about 70 ESP and AESP students annually.
“I get to know them personally. It’s always nice to be part of their journey and see so many bright and talented people come through the program and go off and do amazing things.
“Carleton,” recalls Nelson, “gave me the opportunity to come to school when I didn’t have the means or the grades, so it’s good to be back in the program, where I can see other Aboriginal students be successful.”
Maseruka admits, “The support was amazing. I learned how to learn, how to be more efficient with my research, how to write. And I’ve been able to take the skills with me,” adds Maseruka, who will speak at the 20-year anniversary event in Fenn Lounge October 5. “The opportunities I got by going to university and getting a career affected me throughout my life to this day. It opened up my mind. Basketball was my life, but the challenge of academics became a new sport, so to speak.”
Pychyl calls the ESP program “a Carleton success story. It’s a gift to these students, who get a second chance to get their degree. And it’s a gift back to Carleton.”