Expanding support services for Indigenous graduate students

The Indigenous Strategic Initiatives (ISI) Fund has begun allocating money to successful Stream 1: Innovative Projects that will further the implementation of the Indigenous Strategic Plan (ISP). $1.5 million was set aside to fund Innovative Projects intended to advance one of the ISP’s six priority actions.

The following article explores details about a successful Innovative Project: Building Upon and Expanding the Supporting Aboriginal Graduate Enhancement (SAGE) Program Success at UBC Vancouver and UBC Okanagan campuses.

Funding Cycle2021-2022

The SAGE (Support Aboriginal Graduate Enhancement) expansion project will increase the SAGE program outreach to UBC Indigenous graduate students across disciplines and launch a SAGE program at UBC Okanagan campus. 

Project Team

The project team is comprised of UBC Vancouver and UBC Okanagan faculty and staff. The Vancouver campus team includes Margaret Kovach, a Professor in the Department of Educational Studies, Harpell (Monty) Montgomery, an Associate Professor in Social Work, and Rebecca Jules, a Specialist in Indigenous Graduate Initiatives in the Faculty of Graduate and Post-Doctoral Studies. The Okanagan campus team includes Shawn Wilson, an Associate Professor in Indigenous Studies, and Stephanie Riley, Indigenous Graduate Student Advisor.

Project Overview

SAGE is an Indigenous graduate student mentorship program offered each year. It was first introduced to the Faculty of Education, UBC-V in 2005 under the leadership of Dr. Jo-ann Archibald and has been active there since. SAGE includes an Indigenous Faculty Mentor & Indigenous Graduate Student Coordinator and provides Indigenous graduate students networking and support opportunities to help further their graduate research goals. Annually, SAGE activities are defined and driven by current and incoming Indigenous graduate students. The cyclical programmatic nature of SAGE allows students to address both existing and emergent topics each year. SAGE support activities include SAGE Saturdays, SAGE writing circles, SAGE bulletins, and an annual Indigenous Graduation Student Symposium co-hosted with Simon Fraser University. Alongside the SAGE expansion activity, the project team will conduct research into the SAGE experience to learn about its role in supporting Indigenous graduate student success.

Through reaching out to Indigenous graduate students across UBC and launching a SAGE program at UBC-O, this project supports faculty-student mentorship and peer engagement. Indigenous graduate student peer commitment is the heartbeat of SAGE.

Indigenous Strategic Plan (ISP) Alignment

This project supports Indigenous students transitioning to graduate studies. In expanding the SAGE circle of community, UBC Indigenous graduate students will find a wider welcoming space to develop and enhance their research and academic skills alongside nurturing their aspirations as emerging leaders. A SAGE space provides a refuge from the structural barriers, disciplinary ignorance/arrogance, and cultural insensitivity that Indigenous students are too often confronted with. The existence of a SAGE space accessible to all UBC Indigenous graduate students will help ready them to serve Indigenous communities as professionals and leaders in a culturally informed manner based on their breadth of lived experience and cultural understandings. 

Action 12Support research opportunities for students to become global leaders in the advancement of Indigenous knowledge systems in health, governance, education, law, business, the sciences, the arts and Indigenous languages.
Action 39Strengthen relationships with educational providers and support a comprehensive, multi-pathway approach for transitioning Indigenous students from K-12 or college to undergraduate studies, or from undergraduate studies to graduate studies.


Through a layered mentoring approach, the SAGE graduate coordinator will receive mentorship from the SAGE Faculty mentor to organize events. The SAGE events will create space for Indigenous graduate students to gather in a culturally holistic way. In a SAGE space, Indigenous graduate students can present their research, receive peer feedback, hear from mentors, and build relationships lasting beyond graduate school.  This positively impacts Indigenous graduate student’s sense of belonging, wellness, and academic success – all of which support student retention. In conducting research into SAGE through hearing from current SAGERs and the SAGE alumnus we will learn more about the SAGE model including why it works and how it might be further enriched. By involving an Indigenous graduate researcher in this study, the project offers a portal for student mentorship in active research. The circle of cross-disciplinary and cross-campus relationships will bring recognition to the role of relationality in Indigenous academic graduate student success.

Over the next two years, our project will create ripples of impact. Through conducting a SAGE study, our team will gain insight into why program as SAGE make a difference in Indigenous graduate student life and furthers the goals outlined in the Indigenous Strategic Plan.

-Project Team