During his first three years at Carleton, Tim Gull went from knowing almost nothing about his heritage to writing his final research essay on Aboriginal resource exploitation, thanks to the guidance of the Aboriginal Enriched Support Program (AESP).
“It’s really a life-changing program. I wouldn’t be where I am without it,” says Gull, who is going into his fourth year of environmental studies. “I’d probably still be doing carpentry.”
Growing up in Ottawa, he was never really close with his extended Aboriginal family, who live in northern Quebec on the Waswanipi reserve.
“I always wanted to learn more about that side of my family but they live so far away,” says the 22-year-old.
Gull’s introduction to his Aboriginal heritage occurred when he took a first-year seminar on Aboriginal issues. Students of all ages from across the country took the class, which covered topice such as land treaties, social issues, Aboriginal history and traditional ceremonies.
“It was all brand new to me,” he says. “Learning about my heritage was fascinating.”
The one-year AESP provides Aboriginal students access to a university education and helps them adjust to university life. With the help of one-on-one coaching, academic workshops and mentoring, students are given the tools they need to succeed in university. AESP students take first-year credit courses while benefiting from academic support in the form of weekly workshops. At the end of their AESP year, students who achieve the necessary grade point average across three courses are eligible for acceptance into full-time study in many degree programs at Carleton.
They are also given the opportunity to make connections to the Aboriginal community and learn about their history.
“It’s important for students to know themselves, understand themselves and understand where they’re coming from,” says Perryhan Moustafa, the co-ordinator of the AESP.
“It’s very rewarding to see the students carry on,” says Moustafa. “They realize they belong at university just like anyone else. Creating that sense of confidence is one of the greatest successes of this program.”
Twenty to 25 students from across Canada will take part in the program this year. Often, they have families, have been in the workforce for several years or have already tried university without success.
Before coming to Carleton, Gull spent a year at Algonquin College. At the time, going to college was his parent’s idea and Gull says he didn’t take it seriously.
“It was different coming to Carleton because I wanted to be here,” he says.
Though the AESP application process was tough; it included an interview and writing a “humbling” essay explaining why he wasn’t doing as well as he thought he could be, Gull says it was worth the effort.
“It’s given me focus and the program helped me realize what I want to with my life,” he says.
Studying environmental policy and natural resource management made Gull think about the issues Aboriginals in Canada face on an ongoing basis. He is currently writing his honours research essay on the environmental implications of Hydro Quebec projects on, and around, Waswanipi. He hopes to do a master’s degree so he can continue working this area.
“Since going through the (AESP) program, I realized I want to contribute more to that side of my culture and this is how I can get involved.”