The Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience (AIME) is a dynamic educational programme that supports Indigenous students through high school and into university, employment or further education. The goal is to increase high school graduation rates and university admission rates among Indigenous youth to bring them in line with the rates of all Australian students.
From 2015-16, 76 percent of AIME’s 533 Year 12 graduates transitioned to a university, employment or further education pathway. This exceeds the national non-Indigenous rate of 75 percent of 18-25 year-olds participating in post high-school education, training or employment, and the national Indigenous rate of 40 percent.
An independent evaluation by KPMG found that AIME contributed $38 million AUD to the Australian economy in 2012; that’s $7 in benefits generated for every $1 spent.
Business schools across Australia and their students are involved in the programme, including the University of Wollongong. I spoke with Brenden Newton, AIME Centre Manager at the University of Wollongong, and Steve Mitchell, an Indigenous Business Graduate and Mentor for AIME who is now working as Program Manager at AIME, about this successful initiative.
What is AIME and how did it come about?
Ten years ago, a young Indigenous student at the University of Sydney connected 25 Indigenous and non-Indigenous fellow students with 25 Indigenous high school students at Alexandria Park Community School. Little did they know that this would be the beginning of an organisation that has since connected more than 4864 Indigenous kids and 1923 university students across five states and territories in Australia. AIME is all about young people working with young people, and the kids responded.
AIME provides a structured educational programme for Indigenous kids to access throughout their high school experience. Students completing the programme are proven to finish school and transition through to university, training and employment at the same rate as every Australian child – effectively closing the gap in educational outcomes.
How does AIME work?
AIME has three delivery modes. First, the AIME Institute offers six different courses tailored for each specific high school year group, which provide launch pads for real life opportunities for the students to extend themselves through. For example, in the past, opportunities have included internships for artists, performance opportunities for musicians, ambassador programs and more. The content for the AIME Institute has been designed and developed by Indigenous young people since 2005 and is enhanced and improved each year thanks to input from our mentees and mentors. The delivery of the Institute modules is undertaken by trained Indigenous facilitators who are supported throughout the Institute program by AIME mentors, staff and a variety of special guests.
Second, the Tutor Squad programme features our trained university mentors who head out to local schools to provide free academic support for 15 sessions throughout Terms 2 and 3 of the high school year.
Thirdly, we offer one-on-one coaching, career support and post-school transition. We pride ourselves in getting to know the kids throughout their high school experience, so that when it comes to their senior years, we can provide the best possible advice, support and targeted opportunities for each Indigenous student to transition into university, employment or further training.
During the course of each of year, we work with our partners to source post-school opportunities for our mentees. We continue to stay formally connected to each mentee and provide mentoring support for the first 6 months of their university course, training or employment.
On the employment side of things, we have partnerships with some of Australia’s biggest employers who are committed to increasing Indigenous employment. Once we have wrapped up our six months of post-school support, we then offer mentees the chance to attend our Staff AIME Institute once a year for up to 5 years. This gives them access to world-class learning and development from the likes of Google, Coke and the AIME Team.
We are currently in the process of developing our Alumni programme so AIME mentees and mentors can continue to support each other as a community throughout their lives.
How are business school students involved in AIME?
All across Australia, with every partner business school, each student has the opportunity to participate as a volunteer mentor with the programme. It is the individual business student’s decision to be involved. This is what makes the magic happen: people wanting to connect with other people to assist in a common cause.
Business school students can directly support the Year 12 students that we work with at AIME and share real life experiences of studying at university in the field of business. This firsthand knowledge is invaluable for AIME mentees as it’s coming from a person that they trust and admire. Priceless. Inspiring the next generation.
The non-Indigenous university students who participate in the programme have the opportunity to connect to Australia’s future leaders. They are gifted with a unique opportunity to engage hands-on with Indigenous Australia that provides focused leadership, communication and cultural training. AIME partners offer direct opportunities to AIME volunteers, as they perceive these graduates as people that they would like to employ.
In addition to this, the non-Indigenous participants gain a sense of community with the university. There is a select group of students who stand up and grab the opportunity to act as a mentor. These students become a part of a social network that is supportive on all levels. You could say that they even become a part of a wider family.
How has Wollongong been involved in this programme?
The University of Wollongong (UOW) was the first university partner outside of the University of Sydney – where the program initially started in 2005. This partnership was formed in 2008 and has been a stronghold ever since. Wollongong was the start of AIME’s exponential growth. It could be said that if UOW and AIME were not a success, we may not be where we are today. The expansion to Wollongong gave AIME the belief and confidence that the model worked outside of Sydney to the point where we are now working across the nation with 18 university partners and 325 schools.
What is the experience like as a mentor?
My experiences (Stephen Mitchell) of connecting with young people and inspiring them to be the best possible people they can be was and always will be the highlight of my university degree. The one thing that I looked forward to every week at university was going to AIME. I would even go out on a limb and say that AIME is the reason that I was lucky enough to graduate university. It was the motivation for me to complete my education and be a positive role model for the Indigenous kids in schools. There were several times in my university degree that I wanted to quit and walk away, but I would always think of the kids that I mentored and what would that mean to them. I had to show them that if I could do it, so could they. As an Indigenous man, it is my duty to inspire the next generation to be great: to be better than those before us because the platform has been set for greatness!
I honestly believe that AIME mentors get more out of the programme than the mentees do. Being a mentor pushed me to be the best person I could possibly be and shaped me into the person that I am today. AIME gave me a purpose! It gave me a sense of community, a sense of family, a sense of belonging to something more than a university cohort. My involvement with the programme has connected me with everyday people who are inspiring, encouraging and thought provoking.
Our mission and purpose is to reach 10,000 kids a year by 2018 and to see that every one of those kids transitions through to university, employment or further training at the same rate as other Australian children.
The 2018 goals for the organisation are:
- Reach 10,000 kids & 3,000 mentors nationally
- Be the best place to work in Australia
- Have a proven impact
- Build a robust and sustainable funding model
- Be one of Australia’s coolest and most recognisable brands
AIME strengthens links between universities and high schools. We work to support teachers and parents to become more optimistic about tertiary education as a real option for their Indigenous students. At AIME, we help Australians to see Indigenous Australia as an opportunity, not an obligation. It is about giving everyday Australians the chance to have a meaningful connection with Indigenous Australia and build the idea that Indigenous can mean success.
How can business schools support Indigenous students?
Start by building positive relationships with the students; everything starts with relationships. I would suggest having a conversation with students and discussing their dreams and aspirations. Show an interest in the person, rather than the student. AIME has been built off the back of positive relationships: people working together for a common goal.
As a former business school graduate, one of the best parts of my degree, other than AIME, was being a part of a mentoring programme within the school. This was an informal mentoring programme where I was connected with a senior academics and often had the chance for informal and formal catch-ups. To this day, I still have a positive relationship with my mentor and still go to them for advice, even though I have graduated.