TWU masters students work with Fraser Valley First Nations people to develop peer support training manual for First Nations college students

Langley, British Columbia—Trinity Western University master’s student Marietta Wouterloot of Mission, B.C., is gaining advice from her community—and she has something to offer in return. Under the counsel of First Nations students, First Nations elders and professional counsellors from the Fraser Valley, she and co-author Linda McDermid 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.

“We have a great respect for the First Nations people and their culture, and saw that in the area of counselling, the First Nations community is an underserved population,” says Wouterloot. “We tried to tie together our professional training and our personal experience to offer a peer support program that empowers First Nations youth.”

Taking a different angle than traditional peer support models which focus solely on communication skill acquisition, Wouterloot and McDermid 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, Wouterloot and McDermid tailored their model to meet the needs that First Nations students identified themselves.

To prepare for their thesis, Wouterloot and McDermid 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.

“We were amazed at the students’ desire to gain information regarding these topics,” says Wouterloot. “There was such agreement with the choice of topics that it was almost unanimous. The students’ responses were overwhelmingly positive.”

Integral to the whole process was dialogue with the Fraser Valley’s First Nations community. After gauging the responses from First Nations students, Wouterloot and McDermid 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.

“Peer support is an effective training program as it empowers the trainee with knowledge, which they in turn are eager to share,” says Wouterloot. “It has a very positive ripple effect.”

Designing the program to benefit First Nations communities in the Fraser Valley and beyond, Wouterloot and McDermid 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 range of application,” says Wouterloot. “By involving community members during the implementation of the training program, the uniqueness of that community can be reflected. Our plan is that this can be taken and used by any First Nations community and can be used for adult peer support as well as for students.”

While McDermid is currently working in mental health care, Wouterloot will have the opportunity to continue her work with the Fraser Valley’s First Nations community this January. Having been granted a work scholarship from Trinity Western University, on behalf of Mission residents Victor and Hilda Hollister, Wouterloot will be working with the Mission school district, helping with the Books for Breakfast program among First Nations students and families.

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
Author: -