Dalhousie’s transition year program providing black, native students with opportunity

Program helps students succeed at university

This story has been updated since initially published.

Transition Year Program office on 1400 LeMarchant Street. Photo: Cara Downey

Wanda Ince moved from Toronto to Halifax years ago set on making a change in her life.

Ince learned about a program offered at Dalhousie University that could help her with her educational goals.

“Coming back as a mature student was a change,” she said.

That program was the Transition Year Program, begun as a pilot project in 1970 and now an important step on many students’ paths to higher education.

“It helped me with foundation (to university),” says Ince, who is now the program’s assistant.

While Ince was a TYP student, she also worked part-time for program. She  is now working toward completing her BA.

“I am considering going back to school in September.”

The program has since seen many success stories like Ince’s.

Ince said she learned how to properly do research and write an argumentative essay.

“Classes are very intimate, and students always know that this is their safe place,” she says.

Besides offering financial assistance to qualified applicants, TYP provides black and aboriginal students with the necessary tools to succeed in university.

Isaac Saney BA, MA, LLB, PhD, TYP Director and Black Studies Senior Instructor. Photo: Cara Downey

Of the 550 students who’ve applied to the program in the last five years, 60 to 70 per cent were African-Nova Scotian, says program director Isaac Saney, and the rest were First Nations students.

A majority of the applicants come from the Halifax Regional Municipality, but Saney said the program works on getting applications from all over Nova Scotia.

While Ince and many other students find success through the program, Saney says it’s still tough for many black or native students.

Dalhousie is viewed as not being “very welcoming” to African-Nova Scotian and First Nations students, he says.

Saney says St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish is an example of a university that is aggressive when recruiting aboriginal students.

The university brings aboriginal students to the campus, thus engaging the community where Dalhousie doesn’t, he says.

Still, the transition year program has seen a steady increase in the number of applicants over the years.

With more than 20 years under his belt as director, Saney said there are other reasons for a low number of applicants from First Nations communities.

“First Nation students have more opportunities and avenues,” besides the TYP program, adding he and his staff are working to increase aboriginal student enrolment.

For African-Nova Scotian students, however, it’s one of the only avenues to higher education, unless they explore community college or apply to university directly.

Saney says the program “is very rigorous,” with six courses, including math and African history.

If students maintain a 2.0 grade-point average or higher they will receive a tuition waiver if they pursue a degree.

Depending on the budget, the program will also provide financial assistance to students with living expenses.

Still, Saney says, the transition year program is only one way to help African-Nova Scotian students who struggle with school, especially reading and writing.

“TYP is a very important program but it’s a Band-Aid solution for a bigger issue.”

Update: Feb. 2: An earlier version of this story mentioned that Wanda Ince was a single mother when she entered the Transition Year Program. In fact, Ince was not a single mother at the time.