Program previews post-secondary

University Experience Program gives high-school students a taste of university life year-round

High-school participants in the University Experience Program take workshops and experience cafeteria food.
High-school participants in the University Experience Program take workshops and experience cafeteria food.
File Photo

Queen’s University Experience Program (UEP) is back for its fifth year on Apr. 10.

The initiative is aimed at high-school students who are the first generation of their families to pursue post-secondary education in Canada.

UEP co-ordinator Lindsay Monkman said the program attempts to recognize the challenges first-generation high school students might face in terms of gaining access to information about post-secondary education, as well as getting hands-on experience in a university setting.

Monkman said although the program runs year-round—with in-class visits and small group visits to campus—the cornerstone of the program is a one-day event.

“High school students from Kingston, the surrounding area, Toronto and the Ottawa area come to campus for the day to ‘experience’ the University,” she said.

The program began in 2006 with 100 students and grew to 220 students in 2009.

“For 2010, we’re aiming for even more students and have invited over 40 schools and community organizations to participate,” she said.

The high school students will have the chance to interact with Queen’s students, many of whom are first-generation university students themselves, she said.

“Talking to students who’ve often been through the same process themselves really seems to resonate with the high school students, who often find the idea of post-secondary quite intimidating,” she said. 

“The Queen’s students who volunteer for the day understand a lot of the challenges and concerns of the high school students, and to have them speak about their own experiences can be pretty inspiring to the younger students who are at the beginning of this journey.”

During the day, Monkman said students take a campus tour, have lunch with Queen’s students at one of the cafeterias and learn general information about how to access financial aid resources.

“The highlights of the day, along with lunch, are the two academic sessions that students attend,” she said. “These workshops, which are usually very hands-on and participatory, are led by faculty and grad students and represent a wide range of departments and faculties.”

The workshops range from practicing nursing skills on Stan, a life-sized dummy, to taking part in a Brazilian samba drumming ensemble, she said.

Monkman said the UEP is funded by the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU), as part of their Reaching Higher initiative.

“The MTCU’s Reaching Higher program is nearing the end of its fifth and final year of funding,” she said. “It’s unconfirmed whether funding will continue in the future. We are committed to addressing the needs of first generation students, many of whom are new Canadians or Aboriginal, and plan on running UEP for as long as possible, contingent upon continued availability of resources.”

Ayan Ga’al, ArtSci ’11, has been involved with the UEP for the past two years. She said there’s been positive feedback from high school students who felt it was a good learning experience.

“Volunteering with UEP has been such an amazing experience,” she said, adding that she was drawn to the UEP because she was the first person in her family to attend university and she wanted to mentor high-school students who were in the same position.

“A lot of first-generation students feel that for whatever reason—financial, social, etc.—that post-secondary education isn’t feasible for them.”

The most rewarding part of the program is helping students overcome financial obstacles or other barriers, which help them realize post-secondary education is possible, Ga’al said.

“Programs like the UEP act as an important support system for students who are the first in their families to attend university.”

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