UVic program marks a decade of delivering courses to the disadvantaged

Uni 101 offers free, non-credit university classes to people who face barriers to post-secondary education

Becky Cory

Just in time for the end of the school year, the University of Victoria has hit a milestone with its Uni 101 program.

Last week, the school marked the 10th year of Uni 101, which offers free, non-credit university classes to people who face barriers to post-secondary education. The program teaches humanities and social sciences to people who face such obstacles as poverty, unstable housing, mental health issues, physical disabilities and being a single parent.

The program started as a pilot project in 2006, after Dr. Kristen Semmens of the history department came to the Island.

“She taught in the UBC program that’s been running for about five more years than ours,” said program co-ordinator Becky Cory. “She came over to UVic to study in a postdoctoral program and there was no program similar.”

The program has an emphasis on critical thinking and uses small groups, collaborative learning time and lectures from UVic professors to facilitate discussions. Students hear from a different instructor each week, who brings a topic they are passionate about to engage the class.

In 10 years, about 350 people have gone through the program which has helped many students overcome feelings of isolation, self doubt and anger.

“I came to the program with not so much confidence about higher learning, and knowing that I needed to improve some social skills,” said current student Vanessa Stetton. “I really wanted to open up my world to academia and to demystify it, and going through the program has increased my confidence – it’s infinite. It’s not two-fold or three-fold, it’s ever-expanding.”

“The people I work with have called it my degree in reasonableness,” said Alex Pitblado, graduate and program volunteer. “When you’re a disadvantaged person, you tend to think that people may be out to get you, when it’s because systems have failed that you’ve fallen through the cracks, but because you’re one person you take it personally.”

James Cain, who went through the program nine years ago, now volunteers with Uni 101 as a student liaison, a position that’s developed out of the program’s natural design for student leadership. He said the program is an open venue for students to exchange ideas with one another.

“We create an environment here where people can come and experiment with new ideas,” he said. “Maybe they’re trying to make a personal change in themselves. This is a safe arena to do that in.”

In addition to the program being free, Cory said they provide meals, bus tickets, course materials and childcare subsidies to make it easier on students to attend the twice-weekly classes.

Pitblado and Stetton both agreed that in addition to the education the program provides, Uni 101 has benefitted them on a social level as well.

“I sort of feel recycled,” said Pitblado. “I didn’t really have a purpose, but I came here and became reasonable and I’ve been able to engage in other activities because of it.”

“It has given me an enthusiasm for learning in other areas,” said Stetton. “I feel like I’m a part of the community of the university, and that has benefitted me in many other areas of my life.”

 

jacob.zinn@saanichnews.com

 

 

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