Many people ask Graeme Joseph how he ended up at the University of Saskatchewan, and the answer is simple: he wanted to work for an institution where Aboriginal education “is a very clear priority.”
Joseph assumed the position of team leader of First Nations, Métis and Inuit Student Success in the Aboriginal Student Centre (ASC) May 15, having spent the previous 14 years engaging with Aboriginal students at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. And he views his new role at the U of S as a continuation and expansion of that work.
“I’ve dedicated my life to serving Aboriginal people and supporting Aboriginal students,” he said, “looking for ways to provide them with a quality education while helping them maintain their cultural identity.”
As team leader, Joseph sees three main responsibilities in his work. First is providing leadership to the student services team in the ASC. The second is building on existing relationships between the ASC and others across campus who also provide services to Aboriginal students.
“What we want is a continuum of support,” he said, “starting when they are prospective students all the way to when they are alumni. There are much wider conversations that need to take place” to develop an integrated strategy to ensure the university is recruiting well-qualified students and that social, academic and financial barriers to post-secondary education are overcome.
“We need a greater understanding of the student experience using student data,” he said, with the goal of strategic, systematic and sustainable supports “built right into the university. This is ongoing work and will require ongoing relationships to accomplish.”
Joseph, who is a member of the House of Gitxsan from northwestern British Columbia, said his third priority will revolve around establishing and maintaining various programs and services in the Gordon Oakes – Red Bear Student Centre which is set to open in 2015. The centre “is going to be the hub with spokes or connections extending out across campus to everyone who works with Aboriginal students to create this system of support.”
Through his work, Joseph said he will help ensure Aboriginal education “is woven into the fabric of the institution, is just part of its character.” One heartening sign is that since he joined the U of S, “there’s been a lot of change and that’s challenging, but the Aboriginal priority hasn’t fallen off the table.”