Canada Life and RRC Polytech establish new Circle of Friends Indigenous Student Mentorship Program
In June, Canada Life announced a $500,000 investment to help create a new Indigenous-led student mentorship program at Red River College Polytechnic called The Circle of Friends Indigenous Student Mentorship Program supported by Canada Life. The initiative will be offered across all College programs and campuses, providing support and guidance to Indigenous learners as they navigate post-secondary experiences and move into the early weeks of employment.
Sharon-Rose Bear, a student in RRC Polytech’s Social Innovation and Community Development program, completed her first diploma in Community Development and will return this fall to pursue Indigenous Social Entrepreneurship. During her time at RRC Polytech, Bear has taken every opportunity to engage with the community and challenge herself, and she says she is looking forward to participating in the Circle of Friends program when it’s implemented.
As a student, Bear has taken on important leadership roles. As a member of the School of Indigenous Education Resource Crew or “R-Crew,” she helped new and current students navigate college life and helped the Indigenous Support Team manage community events. Over the summer, she was part of the RRC Polytech team of students selected for the Sistering Indigenous and Western Science Programs (SINEWS)—a paid mentorship program through Natural Resources Canada intended to increase the representation and participation of Indigenous and non-Indigenous women in science-related disciplines and research.
Bear says that post-secondary can be overwhelming, but the support she accessed through the College helped her to balance the opportunities she wanted to pursue with her academic endeavours. Another avenue of support that connects graduates with experienced industry professionals she says will be helpful in ensuring that Indigenous students can confidently pivot from the classroom to a career from the outset.
“Many Indigenous students who come to RRC Polytech are diving into many new environments all at once: college, urban life, diverse communities, new schedules, budget management, and a big city to get around. It’s a lot,” says Bear.
While she has been able to thrive during her time as a student, Bear confirms that having mentors to support Indigenous graduates as they transition from college life to the workforce will be a huge benefit.
“Many of us have developed a level of comfort and confidence on campus, but graduation presents the brand-new, bigger hurdle of going out into the workplace on our own—the cushion of the College is taken away. With the Circle of Friends program, students and recent graduates can take comfort in knowing they will have industry mentors all along the way who will share insights into what it takes to be ‘ready,’ as they transition into their new careers,” Bear explains.
The Circle of Friends Indigenous Student Mentorship Program will help students facilitate connections with other students and industry professionals who otherwise may have missed opportunities. This program is also one of the ways RRC Polytech aims to increase partnerships with Indigenous students, businesses and communities—a key priority for the College.
Mentees will have access to first-hand insight into college experiences, the job hunt and adjusting to a new work environment.
For mentors, having someone to share their experiences with not only will expand their own future industry connections, but bonding through shared experiences and goals can really help build their confidence in their careers. Teaching and learning is reciprocal—mentors engaging with mentees is another way that mentors can strengthen their own expertise.
“This mentorship program will ensure Indigenous learners have more opportunities to connect with experienced industry professionals and expand their networks by building strong relationships with mentors and other mentees along their academic journeys,” says Tracy Brant, Associate Dean, the School of Indigenous Education.
“In turn, mentors will also benefit from engaging with and learning from professionals who are entering their field with new experiences and perspectives. Helping to facilitate these potentially lifelong connections provides students with the tools they need to make the impacts they want to see in their communities and beyond. The additional support of dedicated mentors in the fields they want to pursue will encourage success in their academics and eventual careers.”
Support for Indigenous Learners
Many students like Sharon-Rose Bear regularly access support through the School of Indigenous Education to help manage their academic careers. The Circle of Friends Indigenous Student Mentorship Program supported by Canada Life is just one of the many supports RRC Polytech offers to Indigenous learners College-wide.
The Indigenous Support Centres at the Notre Dame and Exchange District Campuses provide homes away from home where students and staff can smudge, participate in events, cultural teachings and ceremonies, or spend time with friends. The Centres are great places to start when students want to network or access support.
The Indigenous Student Supports team helps Indigenous students succeed with guided tools and resources, from community to classroom to career. The Indigenous Student Supports team provides holistic and interconnected wraparound supports that combine the best of Western and Indigenous ways of teaching and learning.
Indigenous Education is stronger at Red River College Polytechnic with the support of Elders and Knowledge Keepers. The Elder-in-Residence and Knowledge Keeper-in-Residence provide students with traditional, community-based support through Indigenous ways of teaching, learning and leading.
The Indigenous Student Support team hires students each year for the R-Crew. Bear was an R-Crew member at the Exchange District Campus for 2022-23 along with three other students. The R-Crew are leaders who support and encourage other students, assist with events and perform various administrative duties that develop and enhance their skillsets. These students are an integral part of the team and help to build connections throughout the community on campus.
Navigation Coaches with the School of Indigenous Education are the first point of contact for current Indigenous students and can help with everything from finding the way around campus, problem-solving, sharing essential resources and information, understanding College processes and accessing community services. They will also help connect students with other important support team members, who can ensure students receive the help they need.
The School of Indigenous Education (SIE) helps students like Sharon-Rose Bear achieve their personal, educational and career goals. Students build a deeper understanding of cultures, languages and teachings while developing the skills needed to join Manitoba’s growing workforce.
Students can choose between eight transitional programs to help prepare them for further post-secondary education in a specific industry. Pathway and Transition to College programs are exploratory and preparatory, helping students gain the skills to confidently enter specific RRC Polytech offerings and providing opportunities to progress directly into the next program.
RRC Polytech’s Social Innovation and Community Development program helps students build the knowledge and experience needed to work for government institutions, social enterprises, and Indigenous communities and organizations through one of two second-year streams: Community Development or Indigenous Social Entrepreneurship.