Determination to earn a postsecondary education runs deep in Colter Assiniwai's family.
“I was a lot of ‘firsts’ for my family,” said Colter, an Algoma University history student, speaking to a group of Sault College and Algoma University officials gathered at the college Wednesday, June 5 as the two institutions signed an agreement.
Sault College students who graduate from the postsecondary school’s Information Technology and General Arts and Sciences programs will now be able to seamlessly transfer to Algoma University and, after one or two years of additional education, graduate with university degrees in their areas of study.
“I’m one of the first people in my family to graduate high school ‘on time’ as mandated by the government. I’m also one of the first people in my family to go on to a postsecondary education ‘on time,’” Colter said.
Colter graduated from Sault College’s General Arts and Science program, transferring to Algoma with one more year to go before earning a university history degree.
He is involved with Algoma’s Shingwauk Anishinaabe Student Association (SASA) and interacts with and advises university officials regularly.
“I was glad I had the opportunity to go to Sault College where I was prepared for my time at university. If I came right out of the gate from high school to university, I likely wouldn’t have been here today in any capacity,” Colter said, thanking Sault College faculty and staff for their support and showing his appreciation for Algoma University.
“At small colleges, small universities, I’m not just a number, I’m a person. My instructors know my name...I’m so glad to see this extended to Indigenous people in this area and from other areas who come to Sault College.”
“This is such a wonderful agreement that so many people can access,” said Colter, visibly moved.
Colter’s family has an extraordinary university tradition.
“I’m feeling a bit old today. I lived beside Colter’s great-grandmother when I lived in Wikwemikong. She was the babysitter of my daughter, and now, he’s here,” said Ron Common, Sault College president, drawing chuckles from an audience at Wednesday’s agreement signing.
“Kate Assiniwai (Colter’s great-grandmother) was my friend, and when she was 76 years of age she announced she was going to go to university. She never went to high school, and at 76 she went to Laurentian University and got a history degree,” Common said.
“Her area of study was Native history, and she said ‘hey, I lived it.’ The year she graduated, she graduated with her daughter and her granddaughter. Three generations of her family graduated, and that’s the kind of impact we’re having.”
“Your great-grandmother would be thrilled to see you here today,” Common told Colter.
Wednesday’s Sault College/Algoma University agreement signing comes after an earlier ‘2 plus 2’ agreement, signed in January allowing Sault College graduates from the school’s Business and Natural Environment And Outdoor Studies programs to go on to Algoma and earn degrees in Business Administration and Environmental Science.
“The response to the January announcement has resulted in a 28 per cent increase in diploma to degree applications from Sault College students when compared to 2018, so this has been a real success for the college, the university and the community,” said Asima Vezina, Algoma University president and vice-chancellor.
“We understand that not every student chooses the pathway straight to university and I think these agreements do an amazing job of making it easy for students to continue their studies once they start at college...it’s an absolute pleasure to welcome them to the university for the second phase of that higher education.”
“We expect to continue to deepen our collaboration with Sault College over the next several years,” Vezina said.
Local students Graeme Hollingsworth, Adam Fahrer and Siobhan Rasheed have graduated from Sault College’s Computer Programmer diploma program and started an additional year of study in Algoma University’s Bachelor of Computer Science degree program in late April (with an option to do a second year).
“It means we can make the transition from practical study at the college to a theoretical setting, which is easy to do,” Hollingsworth said.
“We get into more theory at the university, a lot more math,” Rasheed said.
“I’ll possibly stay in the Sault (after graduation from Algoma). There are more jobs in information technology these days,” Rasheed said.
“I’d like to stay in the Sault...I like to travel, but staying local is important to me because my family’s here and I have so many connections here,” Hollingsworth said.
Local job prospects, Hollingsworth and Fahrer said, are good for computer science grads, but for now, the two replied they are completely focused on their studies.