The Centre for Initiatives in Education’s ESP/IESP maintains Carleton’s legacy of access to education

By Laura McCaffrey

Second Chances

Consider this scenario: you’re fifteen years old and you’re the oldest of five children in a single-parent household. Your mom relies on you to look after your siblings and work part-time to help pay the bills. You’re smart but you don’t have much extra time to study or do your homework.

Consider another scenario: you’re sixteen years old and you’ve been a straight-A student since grade school without having to try. Now in your junior year of high school, you’re starting to feel pressure—your classes have gotten harder and you haven’t yet developed strong study skills.

Consider a final scenario: you’re eighteen years old and you’re feeling lost. Having just graduated from high school, you decide to take a year off before going to university to figure out what you want to study. You worry that if too much time passes, you’ll never go back to school.

There’s a whole gamut of situations that could lead to difficulties in pursuing post-secondary education. But everyone deserves a second chance in life. That’s exactly what Carleton University’s Centre for Initiatives in Education (CIE) tries to provide with its Enriched Support Program/Indigenous Enriched Support Program (ESP/IESP).

The Program

In 1996, Carleton was going through a renewal process. “There was talk of raising admission requirements to increase graduation rates down the road,” recalls Susan Burhoe, coordinator of programs, student advisor and contract instructor in the CIE. “Part of Carleton’s legacy, though, was about access [to education]. The question became: how do we maintain that legacy while also trying to address student success?”

As the result of these discussions, Aviva Freedman and Dennis Forcese launched the ESP in 1996—with the IESP being added in 2003. “The intention of the program was to provide access to post-secondary education to students who didn’t meet the requirements for admission on paper, but who showed potential,” says Burhoe. “It was about supporting students’ transition to university and helping them figure out what they needed to do to be successful.”

Throughout the years, various donors have supported both the ESP/IESP and the CIE more generally, helping to create scholarships, support mentorship opportunities and expand programming. Thanks to the generosity of donors and the tireless efforts of CIE faculty and staff, the ESP/IESP is thriving. The program provides a unique way for students to qualify for admission to Carleton. Students take three courses—a first-year seminar and two electives—and are provided with a variety of resources to enhance their learning outcomes.

“First-year seminar courses incorporate the academic writing, reading and research skills that students need to be successful at university,” explains Petra Watzlawik-Li, director of the CIE.

Burhoe continues: “Elective courses are supported by workshops. For three hours each week, ESP/IESP students complete exercises that allow them to apply what they learned in class. The goal is not to re-teach the material, but rather to get students questioning whether the approaches they’ve tried in the past were successful, and encourage them to adopt new behaviours and methods to study that will be more effective.”

At the end of their first year, students who have earned the required GPA are able to complete an internal application to a degree program at Carleton. “We admit about 300 students a year to the ESP/IESP,” Burhoe remarks. “Of those, ~65% earn admission to a degree program—with that percentage jumping to 80-90% for students who have good attendance.”

Giving Back

For many students, the program is life changing. “The ESP/IESP gives students a second chance,” Watzlawik-Li explains. “Regardless of their backgrounds—whether they came from broken homes, grew up in poverty or simply weren’t motivated in high school—the program allows them to develop some great skills, gives them a chance to qualify for a degree program and helps them build confidence.”

The experience undoubtedly leaves its mark on students—so much so that many former students come back to work at CIE as ESP/IESP mentors, workshop facilitators and coaches.

“I had such a positive experience with ESP,” shares Nora Jorjani, a former ESP student who graduated with an Honours degree in Psychology and is currently completing an M.Sc. in Clinical Psychology at the University of Aberdeen. “With the support of instructors, mentors, facilitators, advisors and coaches, I was able to overcome many obstacles with which I had previously struggled, both academically and personally. The program staff made me feel heard and cared about; I knew they truly wanted me to succeed, and that gave me the confidence to excel.

“I feel as though the possibilities of what I can achieve are endless, and I owe that confidence and ambition to my ESP experience. That’s why it was so important to me to give back to the ESP, as a peer-mentor for three years and a facilitator in my final year at Carleton.”

For other students, the support received through ESP/IESP has helped them grow and has inspired them to give back more broadly—in their communities and in the world.

“I always knew I was intelligent, but I wasn’t using my full potential,” recollects Patrick Mayangi, a former ESP student and two-time Carleton graduate (B.A. in Political Science and M.A. in European, Russian ad Eurasian Studies). “The ESP staff helped me find myself. After my first year, I became a mentor. I wanted to guide other students through the process.

“ESP planted a seed in me. I developed a belief that leadership is about service; I wanted to give back. After graduating from Carleton, I worked with the Multifaith Housing Initiative and the Catholic Centre for Immigrants – Ottawa, helping to provide affordable housing to low-income families and to orient and integrate new arrivals to Canada, respectively.”

Above all, ESP/IESP opens doors and gives students a platform to not only reach their own goals, but to create a lasting, positive impact. Mayangi, who was recently accepted to the University of Ottawa’s B.Ed program, fondly recognizes the role that ESP played in his progression as a student and a community-oriented individual.

“The success I’ve had and the ability to give back to organizations that matter to me would not have been possible without ESP/IESP,” Mayangi muses. “My high school grades weren’t great, but that shouldn’t define me or the rest of my life. [The staff] understands that and took a chance on me. I’ll always be grateful for the opportunities that have been made possible by my ESP experience.”