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Gillian Epp stands with her research poster focusing on Building Reconciliation at the University of Saskatchewan.

USask students’ strong supporters of the Indigenous Youth Mentorship Program

The Indigenous Youth Mentorship Program (IYMP) is bringing Indigenous youth together across the country, and a pair of University of Saskatchewan (USask) students have been thrilled to have a chance to be a part of it.

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Reed Thorstad works with colleagues at an IYMP retreat.

The IYMP encourages high school mentors to lead their elementary school peers in a series of physical activities and games while exploring cultural teachings and nutrition.

The IYMP is nationally funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and the Saskatchewan program receives supplementary funding from the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation (SHRF). Specifically, SHRF’s funding has been designated for the development, implementation, and growth of the program in Saskatchewan. Through funding from SHRF, two primary areas have benefitted from the funds: the implementation and growth of the IYMP in Saskatchewan communities; and the hiring of additional research assistants and two project co-ordinators.

Two USask students have had the opportunity to take on lead project co-ordinator positions with the IYMP within the last three years. Starting in 2016, the lead project co-ordinator was former College of Kinesiology student Gillian Epp, who has moved on to take a Master of Science in Occupational Therapy. From the beginning, it was her goal to gain valuable experience that would set her apart from her peers. Epp worked closely with kinesiology faculty member Dr. Leah Ferguson (PhD) for a few summers as a research assistant prior to the start-up of IYMP.

“I really valued the work of Dr. Ferguson and what the entire Sport, Health, and Exercise Psychology Lab was doing and I wanted to be a part of it as much as I could,” said Epp.

Through opportunities that arose, Epp would soon work on a project with Indigenous women athletes and found it an empowering project. Dr. Ferguson then offered Epp the position of project co-ordinator with the IYMP.

“I was really interested in the ability to work with students, future leaders, and to help people be role models for each other,” stated Epp.

The project co-ordinator has the opportunity to work with various communities—including school divisions—and learn more about cultural programs being offered. That opportunity fit well with Epp’s interests and provided the chance to gain more knowledge through her academics. Epp expressed how important and valuable the IYMP is for the province and its growth nationwide.

“The benefits really lie within the mentorship between the students and young adults,” she said.

Without this program and the position of project co-ordinator, communication would have been more difficult between the teachers, project staff, and cultural leaders within the community. The project co-ordinator serves as a main liaison between all community members, organizing schedules, preparing equipment, recruiting research assistants for data collection, and is also key to ensure the project stays on track.

“I hope this program continues to run throughout Saskatchewan because there are so many benefits that come from it, such as leadership skills, the support and acceptance, and increased knowledge of Indigenous teachings,” said Epp.

As a new academic year approached and Epp moved to Alberta for her master’s education, it meant hiring a new project co-ordinator. In September 2017, Reed Thorstad was selected to lead the position.

“I found out about IYMP through Tammy Girolami, who has been our community lead on the IYMP in Saskatchewan,” said Thorstad, currently a student in the College of Education. When she initially learned that the project co-ordinator position was going to be open, she jumped at the opportunity.

“I really appreciated the holistic view of wellness that is central to the program, as well as the fact that youth are the primary leaders,” explained Thorstad.

As an education student, her interest has always been driven towards children and youth, and finding an opportunity that allowed her to combine that passion with physical activity and healthy living was the perfect scenario.

“IYMP has been an amazing experience overall. There is a variety of learning opportunities that it has afforded me,” said Thorstad.

Her experiences have ranged from collecting and analyzing research data, to playing games with students, and has allowed her to learn from teachers, students, Elders, Knowledge Keepers, and other IYMP team member across Canada.

“I am a currently a student in the College of Education and I really believe my experience with IYMP has taught me elements that benefit me as a teacher,” said Thorstad.

The IYMP continues to have an impact on children and youth throughout the country and it is the hopes of both project co-ordinators that the program continues to thrive.

Both project coordinators, Reed Thorstad and Gillian Epp, present on the IYMP.

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