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January 13, 2011

The idea of coming to Camosun can feel a bit overwhelming, especially if you are uncertain about your readiness for college. To help smooth the transition to post-secondary for Aboriginal learners, Camosun developed an innovative program to prepare for rewarding careers in community.

The Indigenous Human Services Career Access Program (IHSCAP—pronounced Ice Cap) helps Aboriginal learners by providing effective support services in combination with career exploration and college upgrading, all within an Indigenous cultural context. At the end of the specialized 12–month program, students are familiar with college processes and are confident and ready to enter one of the community services programs offered by the department of Community, Family and Child Studies.

Going to college is different than high school—it's like being with family

2009 student and instructor cohort. Danielle is third from left.

2009 student and instructor cohort. Danielle is third from left.

Danielle Robbins is a graduate of the pilot IHSCAP class of 2010, and says she was nervous before coming to college. "I thought it was going to be just like high school, with groups and people who aren't serious. But with the college classmates, it was more like being in school with all your friends helping you along. You're never by yourself, so that was really good, and going to school was more like going to see our family. It was cool how we all got to be in the exact same classes and form a bond." Robbins especially liked the variety of ages in her class. "There are no groups at all and even though I was the youngest, I was never alone."

Role models pave the way

Robbins wants to be an outreach worker, helping the street populations with homelessness, addictions and mental illness, and she credits two role models for inspiring her. She says, "I have a twin sister, and it's my mom who taught us important community values. When we were about six years old Mom started us volunteering at the Mustard Seed Christmas dinner, so that kind of got me interested in learning and helping. Just recently Mom went to Camosun and took the First Nations Family Support and the Community Mental Health programs and now she's an outreach worker. We see our mom walking downtown; she waves to all the homeless people and stops to chat with them. She treats everyone like family, looks people straight in the eye and kneels down if someone's sitting on the ground. Just seeing her do that is encouraging."

But it’s her uncle, Christopher Bell, who remains Robbins’ most important role model. "When I was younger, my uncle was on the streets. I didn't know anything about his life because I was so young, and I was scared of him. I was scared of everyone on the streets, and I didn't even go downtown. Without seeing the drug addictions he had to face, and the life he had to live, I wouldn't be where I am now. I'm in school because I want to make the world a better place to live than he had. When he passed away, I decided I didn't know what I was afraid of, so I started volunteering at the Mustard Seed . Now I go downtown and talk to everyone, just like my mom does, because I want to make it a better life for people than what my uncle lived."

Support that makes a world of difference

Robbins first heard about IHSCAP while still in high school, and was encouraged to consider it by Camosun Aboriginal Community Liaison, Marcey Louie. "I didn't really think anything of it at first," says Robbins. "Then I saw Marcey outside of school, and she told me about it again. I thought, maybe I'll try that, because I needed to upgrade my English anyways. I really liked how much support there was and the teachers were always checking on us to make sure everything was going okay."

In addition to academic support, Robbins really appreciated the assistance she received when it came to details like registration and course selection. "It was cool because a person came right to our class and showed us how to register. She did it all for us, then taught us how to do it ourselves. Everything and everyone is here for you, in class and in the Aboriginal office."

Bridging to a career program

IHSCAP offers career exploration where students learn about Camosun's community support programs, and then provides immediate entry into one of those programs. The career exploration prepared Robbins to make an informed decision about her destination program, and the direct entry meant she could transfer seamlessly and without waitlists. She is now part way through her two-year diploma program in Community, Family and Child Studies and says, "I felt prepared for the CFCS program, and it was cool that I could start right away."

All you have to do is start!

When asked if she'd recommend IHSCAP to others, Robbins gives an enthusiastic thumbs up. "Yes! I think it's a really good place to start if you're deciding what you want to do for your career. You get to explore all the options and do your upgrading at the same time. Everything is laid out for you, and all you have to do is start. You'll have a college credential and a career before you know it!"

Last updated: April 29, 2011 1:52 pm

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