First year students find home at Aboriginal Student Centre

By Costa Maragos Posted: August 8, 2016 6:00 a.m.

(l-r) Cheyanne Desnomie helped students Morgan Esperance and Dominique Head make the most of their first year of university.
(l-r) Cheyanne Desnomie helped students Morgan Esperance and Dominique Head make the most of their first year of university. Photo by Trevor Hopkin - U of R Photography.

Morgan Esperance wonders how she would have ever survived her first year of studies without guidance from the Aboriginal Student Centre.

Esperance is now a second year student in the journalism program at First Nations University (FNUniv) and is also taking classes at the University of Regina. Esperance and her friend Dominique Head, a fellow journalism student, found critical support from a unique program called nitôncipâmin omâ -"We Are Here" or OMA for short. It’s run out of the Aboriginal Student Centre at the U of R.

OMA helps first year students adjust to university life.  

OMA group selfie
Thanks to OMA, first year students have an easier time adjusting to university life, academically and socially. (Photo courtesy of Aboriginal Student Centre)

“OMA helped me a lot. If I did not have OMA for my first semester, I would have been discouraged,” says Head, who grew up on the Mistawasis First Nation.

“OMA gave me more confidence because I was never really strong in school,” says Esperance who is from the Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nation.

Both students got a needed confidence boost thanks to counsel and direction from their OMA facilitator, Cheyanne Desnomie.

“OMA has been so great for providing students with guidance when entering university in almost all aspects of life. Not only does the program allow for academic development, it is also designed to provide support in the areas of personal, career, and cultural development,” says Desnomie. “It allows for students to take the skills that they have learned and apply them to the rest of their university careers.”

Desnomie, as a facilitator, will go so far as to sit in classes with her students. She’s also their tutor and essentially is there for them in almost all aspects of their academic lives.

“She does mock exams with us. She teaches us how to study. She teaches us to work effectively. She makes time for us to go over the lectures,” says Head.

The academics are just one part of OMA. There’s a cultural component as well.

“When I came here, I felt more comfortable here,” says Head. “I’m able to learn not only about my culture but other cultures such as Inuit. “

Friendships are formed.

OMA Theatre Group
The class “Introduction to Improvisation” was taught by Jaydon Pfeifer. This class was specifically offered to OMA students. (Photo courtesy of OMA)

“We did things outside classes. We would hang out..go out for supper. We were not just classmates, we were friends,” says Esperance. “The Student Centre is awesome. All of us come here and we call ourselves the OMA squad.”  

There’s more.

Students at OMA are assisted in seeking scholarships, writing resumes, training for job interviews and other supports to help ease the stresses of first year university life.

“After students have spent an entire school year together with OMA, I’ve noticed many positive changes in each of them,” says Desnomie. “I’ve seen students who have come from remote northern communities that could not make eye contact with other people when they first arrive become fully involved with the campus community and lose some of the fear and anxiety about urban life and unfamiliar situations and people.”

The program works. Students enrolled in OMA have a much higher chance of moving on to second year. That’s certainly the case for Morgan Esperance and Dominique Head. They’re back in classes this fall.  
Are you a First Nations student nervous about your first year of studies? Don’t be. Visit this link and see how OMA can help you.