Black scientists gather to discuss research and leadership
February 14, 2022
Founded in 2020, the Canadian Black Scientists Network aims to celebrate, make visible, and connect Black researchers and students in the areas of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine/health (STEMM). This year, the network held the first national Black Excellence in STEMM virtual conference (BE-STEMM 2022), from Jan. 30 to Feb. 2. Queen’s – as well as several other top Canadian universities – sponsored the event, which virtually gathered hundreds of participants.
For more information on BE-STEMM and the Canadian Black Scientists Network, visit the website.
Highlights of the conference included keynotes by leading Black academics and policy makers, research talks and posters, undergrad and high school students’ presentations representing all STEMM areas, and a career fair. The last day focused on practices and programs for promoting inclusion and leadership and encouraging Black Canadians in STEMM. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave some of the closing remarks on the conference and highlighted the importance of such event to change the face of science in Canada and inspire next generations.
Engaging Black Youth in STEM
A number of Queen’s staff, faculty, and students also attended the conference. One of them was Cressana Williams-Massey from Queen’s Engineering. She is the team lead for Black Youth in STEM, a virtual club offered by engineering students and designed for grades 1-8 children in the Kingston, Ontario area.
“BE-STEMM 2022 was very significant to me as a Black female professional focused on providing outreach service to Black students,” she says. “Being an immigrant who was born and raised in Jamaica, the open discussions – especially those focused on inclusion and equity, educated me greatly on the social climate experienced by some Black people living in Canada. Understanding the thoughts and feelings of persons in the Black community will help me to build greater ties to effectively serve the K-12 children”.
Williams-Massey was particularly interested in sessions that discussed education and community-centered initiatives, as they presented data that can help in framing her work at Queen’s.
“A lot of the data points to a lack of Black representation and feelings of isolation and exclusion in the school environment due to differences in race,” she highlights.
Participating in the conference has further inspired Williams-Massey to develop strategies to engage Black outreach instructors and role models, as well as provide a safe space for students to talk freely with their tutors and other Black-identifying students.
Recognizing Research Excellence
Nomusa Mngoma, an adjunct professor within the School of Rehabilitation Therapy and research scientist within the Department of Medicine, found the program of the conference vast, covering the basic sciences to population health and epidemiology, and the quality of speakers outstanding, with high-caliber presentations and ample opportunity to meet new colleagues. A highlight for Mngoma was the Leadership Summit, which saw attendees engage with and learn from experts in academia, funding agencies, government ministries, and industry.
“I appreciated the opportunity to network with other scientists from across Canada and was able to connect on issues of mutual interest,” she affirms. “The amalgamation of early-career scientists, students, and seasoned scientists presented the attendees with exciting new mentee–mentor exchange opportunities”.
As part of the conference, Mngoma was the recipient of BE-STEMM 2022 Award for Research Excellence in Epidemiology & Population Health for her work on mental distress and substance use among rural African youth. Her findings indicate that youth excluded from education and employment opportunities experience more emotional distress and consume more alcohol and drugs then their peers – a situation that might contribute to increased health inequalities and poverty levels for this group.
“Rural Africa is rarely represented in global mental health research, yet there are heavy health burdens on these remote communities with often extremely limited health resources,” warns Mngoma. Her research findings have supported advocacy and strategic planning to address mental health challenges in the region through the South African High Commissioner’s office in Ottawa, local government in South Africa, community leaders and volunteer agencies.
“Global health research in rural Africa is like ice-fishing, requires a lot of patience in low-resource settings and difficult terrain,” says Mngoma. “It was an honour to receive the award in recognition of our research and a privilege to tell the stories of these communities with high rates of poverty and mortality.”