WHEN SHE FIRST ARRIVED AT UBC OKANAGAN, psychology student Jordyn Cates, who is from the Okanagan Indian Band in Vernon, wanted to connect with an Indigenous community within the university population.
In her third year, Cates applied to participate in the Indigenous Research Mentorship Program (IRM) run by Indigenous Programs and Services. Started in 2015, the program’s goal is to provide self-identified Indigenous students in all faculties the ability to gain hands-on research experience at an undergraduate level. In addition to being paired with a mentor in their area of research interest, students attend workshops and programming throughout the research experience—building friendships and community with other students along the way.
Cates was paired with Psychology Professor and cannabis researcher Dr. Zach Walsh, and also had the opportunity to work closely with doctoral student Michelle St. Pierre. Her first year in the program was spent working on interview transcription, which gave Cates an important perspective of what research looks like at every level, “and how essential people are to the process, even if you’re just transcribing interviews.”
While Cates was over the moon to be Dr. Walsh’s mentee and work on cutting-edge drug policy research, her ultimate “a-ha” moment came while attending AISES, an Indigenous STEM conference, at McGill University—an opportunity she gained through the IRM.
“Seeing Indigenous STEM researchers coming together to present these findings ignited something within me,” Cates says. “It showed me that one day, I could be up there presenting.”
In fact, the conference was so impactful for Cates that she ended up co-founding the UBCO chapter of AISES to stay involved with the organization and connect with other Indigenous STEM researchers and professionals.
In her second year with IRM, Cates worked closely with another undergraduate student on a literature review. Her passion for research continued to grow and this experience led her to complete a directed study, supervised by Dr. Walsh, in the final term of her undergraduate degree, before deciding to enrol in graduate studies.
“I felt like I could expand upon the work from my directed studies,” Cates explains. “I worked on a research project interviewing Indigenous peoples about substituting cannabis for opioid use, and I felt very privileged to engage in this research area. It was very inspiring to continue this research.”
Creating such a pathway for Indigenous students is an important goal of both the IRM and UBCO, explains Indigenous Programs and Services Interim Associate Director Rachel Andreychuk. “The program aims to create opportunities for undergraduate students to understand what a future pathway in research or graduate school could look like. And it has been so exciting over the past several years to see students who participated in the IRM graduate from their undergraduate programs and move to graduate studies.”
Indigenous Research Mentorship Program, by the numbers (2022)
30 students continued research with their supervisor after IRM ended
Seven students received NSERC’s Undergraduate Student Research Award
Five students completed Honours thesis projects
This integral work has been identified within UBC Okanagan’s declaration of Truth and Reconciliation commitments, which includes advancing Indigenous teaching and research through strategies that support faculty hiring, curriculum development and land-based learning and teaching spaces.
The IRM gave Cates confidence in her Indigenous identity and the ability to foster that within her community through workshops and gatherings with other mentees, mentors and staff at Indigenous Programs and Services. “That gave me space for my Indigenous identity to grow and feel connected to the Indigenous community on campus. It’s helped build a sense of belonging for me, a support network and lasting friendships.”
She adds: “My experience with Dr. Walsh extended beyond my participation in the program, which I think shows how dedicated he was to my personal growth.” As she begins her combined Master of Science/PhD in Clinical Psychology under Dr. Walsh, Cates is keeping her community connections by staying involved with Indigenous Programs and Services; she is also a drug checking technician with the UBCO Harm Reduction Team.
As for what Cates thinks about research following her time in the IRM program, she smiles. “I love it. Four years ago, I never would have imagined that I would graduate and move to a Master’s/PhD program. The program gave me the opportunity to gain valuable research experience and consider research as a future pathway.”