Sechelt masters student works with First Nations people to develop peer support training manual for First Nations college students

Langley, British Columbia—Sechelt resident Linda McDermid, master’s student at Trinity Western University, attributes her interactions with First Nations friends in her community for inspiring her to create a peer support program designed to help First Nations students.

Under the counsel of First Nations students, First Nations elders and professional counsellors from the Fraser Valley, she, and co-author Marietta Wouterloot, have created a First Nations student peer support manual unlike others in the Lower Mainland. The two Trinity Western University master’s students recently defended their thesis, titled, The Gift of Sharing: A Peer Support Training Manual for First Nations’ College Students, for their Masters of Counselling Psychology. Not only did their work achieve approval from External Examiner Rod McCormick, PhD, of UBC, but also generated interest from Lower Mainland First Nations students and the B.C. government’s Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs.

“The sense of justice and of equality of opportunity have been the underlying themes driving our studies,” says McDermid.

Taking a different angle than traditional peer support models which focus solely on communication skill acquisition, McDermid and Wouterloot created a model designed specifically for First Nations college students, focusing on issues ranging from cultural identity to study skills. Aiming to help develop the skills of First Nations students within the context of the First Nations’ culture, McDermid and Wouterloot tailored their model to meet the needs that First Nations students identified themselves.

To prepare for their thesis, McDermid and Wouterloot assessed the feasibility of their peer support model by consulting First Nations elders and professional counsellors in the Mission area. Taking into consideration responses from both counsellors and Mission’s First Nations community, they developed a needs survey comprised of approximately 20 topics which they circulated among First Nations students at the University College of the Fraser Valley. UCFV First Nations students then indicated which issues they were most interested in exploring, issues ranging in everything from crisis intervention to career success.

Integral to the whole process was dialogue with the Fraser Valley’s First Nations community. After gauging the responses from First Nations students, McDermid and Wouterloot narrowed their focus to ten topics. The issues addressed include cultural identity, health and wellness, decision making, communication styles, communication skills, coping with stress, understanding anger, crisis intervention, student success and career success.

“Two factors that we discovered were very important to these students were academic information and career information,” says McDermid.

Designing the program to benefit First Nations communities beyond the Fraser Valley, McDermid and Wouterloot ensured their model would allow each First Nations community to reflect its own distinct qualities by including consultation with community members as a main step in the implementation process.

“The program has a broad scope,” says McDermid. “One of the most valuable aspects of the program is that the information is provided in a way that it is adaptable, so that anyone can use it.”

McDermid is currently working in mental health care, while Wouterloot will have the opportunity to work with the First Nations students and families in the Mission school district this January on a work co-op scholarship from Trinity Western University.

Trinity Western University, located in Langley, B.C., is a privately funded Christian liberal arts university enrolling 2,850 students this year. With a broad-based, liberal arts and sciences curriculum, the University offers undergraduate degrees in 34 major areas ranging from business, education and computer science to biology and nursing, and 12 graduate degrees including counselling psychology, theology and administrative leadership.

Last Updated: 2012-08-21
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