AIME-ing high: Indigenous mentoring program expanding in 2014

AIME-ing high: Indigenous mentoring program expanding in 2014

Fresh from a record-breaking year mentoring 380 Indigenous high school students across the region in 2013, the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience (AIME) program at the University of Wollongong is aiming to reach 500 students in 2014.

AIME was established at UOW in 2008 to redress imbalance in high school completion rates between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, by recruiting university students to give Indigenous students support, guidance and encouragement to complete Year 10 and Year 12 at high school and go on to some form of tertiary education.

Having started at six high schools in the Illawarra in 2008, UOW’s AIME program is now at 15 schools in the Illawarra and 18 in the Shoalhaven and South Coast, where UOW has campuses at West Nowra, Batemans Bay and Bega.

The program has become so successful that 96.1 per cent of Indigenous students who participate in UOW’s AIME program are progressing from Year 10 to Year 11 (traditionally a high drop-out point for Indigenous students) compared to the national non-Indigenous average of 93 per cent. It is almost 20 per cent higher than the national average for Indigenous students.

UOW Pro Vice-Chancellor (Inclusion and Outreach) Professor Paul Chandler, who is a long-standing director on AIME’s national board, was instrumental in establishing AIME at UOW with Jake Trindorfer. Professor Chandler said UOW is recognised as the best practice benchmark for AIME programs.

It has two full-time Program Managers - Nadia Neal covering the Illawarra and Stephen Mitchell the Shoalhaven and South Coast – and in 2014 is expanding to become a regional hub for AIME in NSW, with Brenden Newton appointed the new Centre Manager.

“UOW has been the model program for AIME,” Professor Chandler said. “From the start we made a commitment that we’d be here for the long run, and now we are expanding so that UOW becomes a major regional hub with major outreach.”

AIME pairs university student mentors with indigenous students from Years 9-12. The mentors connect with the mentees in a variety of ways, including a 13-week one-on-one program for an hour a week at UOW, squads of student tutors visiting high schools to connect with Indigenous students and assist them with their studies, and at after-school homework centres.

In 2013 AIME UOW had 149 mentors, including 16 who were Indigenous themselves, and hopes to recruit at least 200 mentors in 2014.

Nadia Neal started with AIME as a mentor in 2008 and took over as AIME UOW Program Manager in 2012 when the program’s inspirational UOW founder Jake Trindorfer moved to a head office role in Sydney, where he is now national Program Development and Design Coordinator. Nadia said becoming an AIME mentor was a great way for university students to develop their leadership skills.

“Our mentors tell us they really get a lot out of being involved with AIME,” she said. “It is definitely a two-way street. The mentors get a great experience in providing leadership and a greater understanding of Indigenous Australia, while of the mentees obviously benefit from the guidance and assistance they receive.”

Nadia graduated from UOW in 2013 with a Bachelor of Population Health and Indigenous Health, and will soon leave to travel overseas. Layne Brown, who also started as a mentor in 2008, will take her place as Illawarra Program Manager.

Nadia, Stephen and Layne are all Indigenous. They say being involved in AIME has given them a chance to give back to their community, and help the next generation of Indigenous school students.

“Working with AIME has been so close to my heart,” Nadia said. “Not many of my family had gone on to tertiary education, and now my younger sisters are trying really hard to get a better ATAR score than I did so that they can go on to uni as well. It is great to see their pride and confidence grow.”

Stephen, who completed a Commerce degree at UOW in 2011 and a Graduate Diploma in Teaching in 2012, said he had received strong support to complete his university studies from the Woolyungah Indigenous Centre at UOW, and got involved with AIME so that he could help others.

“It is great to be able to work with my people and give something back by instilling in them the belief that they can be successful … (then) seeing them achieve,” he said.

Stephen started AIME at UOW’s Shoalhaven and Bega Education centres in 2012, and will extend the network to Batemans Bay in 2014.

Jake Trindorfer recruited Layne Brown as a mentor when AIME started in 2008. Now Layne is returning as Illawarra program Manager in 2014 having spent the last six years working in youth support roles in the Illawarra Aboriginal community.

“Having been with AIME when it started in Wollongong, I am excited to be able to come back,” he said. “This year we want to focus on ways to get to more kids – especially those who have fallen through the cracks.”

Physical Education graduate Brenden Newton is the non-Indigenous member of the AIME leadership team. As a UOW student he was a volunteer in the Indigenous Tutoring Assistance Scheme at Woolyungah, helping Indigenous students with their university studies, while also “hanging out” with Indigenous youth at his wife’s home town of Culburra in the Shoalhaven. Last year Nadia and Stephen invited him to be a guest presenter in AIME’s Window to Fame program, talking to students about his experiences as an international professional big wave bodyboarder.

“I had a series of interactions with Indigenous kids and always really enjoyed it, so joining AIME was a natural progression,” Brenden said.

“In this new position as Centre Manager I’ll have a hands-on role helping prepare the mentors, as well as a strategic role working to make UOW the major regional hub for AIME in NSW. We want to build it up so that we are actively targeting 500 Indigenous high school students between Bulli and Bega.”