Kara Paul wants to see more Aboriginal youth earning degrees in the health sciences at Dalhousie University. That’s why she started the junior university program in 2011.
“We wanted to make sure students, Aboriginal children have an idea what careers are possible,” Paul explained.
Paul manages the Aboriginal Health Sciences Initiative at Dalhousie University, a program she also founded. The aim of the initiative is to recruit more Aboriginal youth to study the health sciences at the Halifax-based university.
One of those recruitment initiatives is to hold a junior university camp for one week every summer for Aboriginal youth between the ages of 14-16. Paul’s program accepts 15-20 Aboriginal youth each year.
“We bring them in during that age before they make their decisions in high school on what courses to take so they keep their options open,” Paul said.
Aboriginal teens from the maritime provinces who apply are given the full university experience. They stay in residence on campus and eat their meals together in the dining hall. During the day, they attend classes where they get an overview into various health professions such as medicine, nursing, dentistry and physiotherapy.
This year’s junior university was held July 12-17.
Blake Johnson, 16, from Potlotek First Nation, N.S. was one of 20 teens who arrived on campus July 12 to take part in the week-long camp. He saw the program as a opportunity to explore his options as he enters Grade 12 in September.
“In the beginning, I just wanted to get through high school, get it done so I picked out all of the easy classes,” Johnson said. “Now, I’m thinking maybe I should get like an academic science (course), maybe academic math or something.”
Johnson said he enjoyed learning about physiotherapy and dentistry, in particular.
“I loved dentistry. Oh my God, it was really fun,” Johnson said. “They let us drill into plastic teeth and you got to like, put in fillings and stuff.”
Sarah Prosper, 15, from Eskasoni First Nation, N.S. learned about Dalhousie’s junior university camp through her older brother who is in the pre-med program at Dalhousie.
Like her fellow participants, Prosper said she also enjoyed the information sessions on nursing, physiotherapy and dentistry. She also loved experiencing campus life at university.
“It was so interesting and so amazing like, to see all the cool things you can do with your life after high school and to experience it,” Prosper said.
In the four years since the junior university first started, Paul says she has seen past participants return to campus as registered students at Dalhousie.
“We have had students who have graduated from the first set of camp to just finishing their first year here now. So, it’s working,” Paul said.
“One in particular, she just finished first of the Bachelor of Medical Sciences program,” she added.
Paul says some of the past participants who registered at Dalhousie have opted to study the general sciences or the arts program.
“That’s okay. As long as they come to school and they’re here at Dalhousie,” Paul said.
“Dal has provided this experience for them and they see themselves here at this university by being here for the week, realizing that it’s not scary. They can get comfortable and familiar here.”