A young Inuit person in Iqaluit who wants to pursue a postsecondary education finds herself almost 2,000 kilometres away from the nearest university. Chances are she has no family members who have ever set foot in a university. And if she goes, she’ll find herself in an unfamiliar setting where no one speaks Inuktituk, and urban life will no doubt come as a big shock. Challenging, you say?
In Inuktituk, Tukitaarvik means “a place to understand and be pointed in the right direction.” It’s also the name of a new project, funded by the research network ArcticNet, to help young Inuit who want to pursue a postsecondary education. According to Thierry Rodon, assistant professor in political science at Université Laval, the project took shape during focus groups with Inuit university graduates. As part of a research project, Dr. Rodon, who holds a research chair in northern sustainable development at Laval, met with some 100 graduates in the approximately 2,500 Inuit communities across Northern Canada. The students consistently raised the need for an online resource to help them with the challenges they face.
“These graduates found it very hard to leave their community not knowing where they were going,” Dr. Rodon explains. “The university setting is completely foreign to them. There is a clear need for concrete information to demystify this institution, and to prepare them for it.” The website, which is only in English for now, includes a guide to help students prepare for their studies, as well as a video showing what the day-to-day life of a university student is like.
Too often young Inuit people feel isolated at university without other members of their community. “One of the keys to success is to have a way for students who are from the same place to come together to create a support group,” says Dr. Rodon. By signing in to the new site, students can find out where other Inuit students are studying and choose their university accordingly. They can also connect with other young Inuit who want to go to university and go together.
“This sort of project does not fulfill the need for university programs in the North,” Dr. Rodon says, “but it can help bring Inuit university students together and make it easier for them to succeed.”