AIME is a mentoring program designed to bridge the gap between Indigenous high school students and universities, bringing students on to campus to experience program days that help them develop new skills and increase their confidence within the uni environment, and also sending mentors out to schools for weekly tutoring and relationship building.
We spoke to Isabel Pavlich-Miles, the AIME Program Manager at Southern Cross University Coffs Harbour Campus, all about the program and the influence it’s had on local youth since it began in 2005.
Hi Isabel. Could you tell us about your connection to the Coffs Coast?
I grew up in the hinterland of the Coffs Coast, where my dad and his family lived most of their lives. As a teenager I went to Orara High, before leaving Coffs at 18 for stints living in Brisbane, Sydney and Alice Springs. Last year I made the move back, and I’m loving exploring the region as an adult.
What is your role at Southern Cross University and with AIME?
I’m the AIME Program Manager for the Southern Cross University Coffs Harbour campus.
Tell us about AIME and what the organisation is all about.
AIME is a mentoring program with the vision to end inequality through education by building bridges between universities and high schools. The AIME mentoring bridge consists of two separate lanes; the first lane has buses of local high school students (mentees) travelling to the university campus to attend AIME program days; and the second lane has car loads of volunteers (mentors) driving out to the local high schools to deliver weekly Tutor Squads for the students.
At the AIME program days, the mentees are met on campus by the mentors, who then support the mentees to unlock their potential. These program days expose the mentees to powerful role models, who share stories of adversity, resilience and individual growth, inspiring the students to rise up out of the challenges of life and remain strong within themselves.
The mentors also support the mentees to move through specifically designed activities designed to create growth mindsets and to give them opportunities to step out of their comfort zones and challenge themselves, whilst developing new skills and confidence. Through the support of their mentors, mentees are encouraged to understand their value, worth, capability and potential. Mentees are able to witness others believe in them, and for some this may be the first time they’ve experienced this kind of support.
In addition to the program days, we also deliver tutoring at the schools. These tutor squads support the mentees academically and further strengthen the bonds between mentees and mentors. When mentors turn up each and every week, it embeds the mentees’ belief that people believe in them.
The AIME program opens the minds of local Indigenous students to truly see their potential. We create an environment that enables young people to shift their psychological framework to view their identity as a reason for success, rather than an excuse for failure. And by being based on university campuses, mentees become comfortable within the university environment and understand that it is not an unobtainable or foreign pathway.
What are some things that AIME has achieved so far?
AIME began in 2005, initially working with 25 Indigenous high school students in Sydney. This number has now grown to over 10,000 students, and last year alone we had 6,007 students engaged with AIME, 324 partner schools and delivered the program from 36 different university campuses. We also had 1,671 mentors volunteer 41,204 hours of their time, assisting 97% of the Year 12 students in the AIME program to obtain their Year 12 attainment (the non-Indigenous Year 12 attainment rate was 89.1%).
Additionally, the data for the Southern Cross region (Coffs, Lismore, Tweed Heads), is even greater. Last year we had a 100% attainment rate for our Year 12 students and worked with 725 students across 25 schools, with the support of 103 mentors. This year we are going even bigger and better and in the Coffs region itself, we are now working with 11 partner schools from Macksville through to Grafton.
Who are the mentors? How do people become a mentor?
Our mentors range from university students, community members, Indigenous Elders, corporate employees and members of other local support services. The beauty of AIME is that ANYONE can be involved. You don’t have to be Indigenous, you don’t have to be academic, all you need is heart and a passion to end Indigenous inequality and support young people to fight for their dreams and aspirations.
There are a number of flexible options for being involved with AIME. For anyone interested, contact me on 0459 999 190 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
What are some of the highlights of your time with AIME so far?
Each and every day I experience awe inspiring moments with the young people we work with. I’ve witnessed students stand up in front of 120 people and share the most vulnerable, heart wrenching stories, in the hope to encourage younger students to continue to push through the hardships of life. I’ve watched as young people who have been disconnected with their culture explore and learn and grow their individual identities and become proud of their heritage and break through the historical shame that has been holding them down.
Every day that I am with AIME, I have the honour of watching the displays of strength, resilience and power that Indigenous young people are capable of when they feel that others believe in them. This is the power of AIME. And this is why I do what I do.