June 24, 2013
A program designed to engage more Aboriginal young people in engineering has just had a boost from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) in the form of a $90,000 PromoScience grant over three years.
The Aboriginal Access to Engineering Program provides culturally relevant student support services to undergraduate Aboriginal students enrolled in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science. Beginning this summer, a new program will reach out to youth in Aboriginal communities in Ontario and Quebec in a bid to engage them in science, technology, engineering and math.
“Less than one half of one per cent of all the engineering degrees in Canada are earned by Aboriginal people,” says program director Melanie Howard (Artsci ’95, Ed ’98). “It’s a disproportionate representation and we’re hoping to change that.”
Ms. Howard says the key to change is in engaging young people with science and technology learning in their own communities and within their own traditions. The outreach program is led by Queen’s students of Aboriginal heritage who set up interactive displays at various cultural festivals throughout the summer. The students then engage youth with storytelling, games and activities that help them learn about the importance of engineering within an Aboriginal context – something Ms. Howard refers to as “ancestral engineering”.
“We talk with the kids about the kind of engineering that went into traditional Aboriginal structures and was at play in the context of larger villages,” she explains. “We want to point out that engineering isn’t just something that other people do – it’s part of our history too.”
Ms. Howard says she is always heartened to see children returning again and again over the course of a day to continue trying to solve a particular engineering puzzle. “As a teacher, I know from experience that hands-on is best. When children come voluntarily because they want to learn, that is when they will take more away from it.”
Ms. Howard says she is thrilled that the Aboriginal Access to Engineering initiative, which has been championed by the Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, Kim Woodhouse, has also been recognized by NSERC. She says it has also been well received by the Aboriginal community. “This is a powerful educational experience for kids,” she adds, “and this funding is going to help us make a difference.”