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Inspiring the next generation of Indigenous engineers

Queen’s Indigenous Futures in Engineering program has been awarded $600,000 to expand their K-12 outreach.

[Nicole General, Indigenous STEM Outreach Coordinator with InEng, works with a young student.]
Nicole General, Indigenous STEM Outreach Coordinator with InEng, works with a young student.

Inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers is the motivation behind the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council’s (NSERC) latest funding announcement. More than $10 million was awarded through the PromoScience and Science Communication Skills grants to organizations that provide youth access to innovative STEM programs and enhance communication and understanding of science for the public. Queen’s Indigenous Futures in Engineering (InEng) was one such program, receiving their most successful funding request to date of just under $600,000.

Established in 2011, InEng (formerly Aboriginal Access to Engineering) is based out of the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science and led by Indigenous education professionals with expertise in STEM instruction. The initiative is committed to significantly increasing the number of Indigenous engineers in Canada through both supports for students at Queen’s and K-12 outreach programming. By providing opportunities for Indigenous youth in K-12 to engage with Indigenous engineers and engineering students, the program aims to encourage youth to see themselves in the profession and eventually pursue STEM education. The program has also worked with more than 100 Indigenous engineering students at Queen’s since its inception, providing a broad range of resources and support from tutoring to dedicated study spaces to opportunities for national and international networking.  

“We must inspire and encourage young people today if we are to make big discoveries and solve the mysteries of tomorrow,” says the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science, and Industry, who made the federal funding announcement.. “With this investment through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, our government is supporting those who ignite a spark across generations, and encouraging Canadians to help build a healthier, cleaner, and more sustainable future for everyone.”

Science Communication Skills Grant
Queen’s researchers Diane Orihel (Biology) and Sarah Yakimowski (Biology) were successful recipients of the new NSERC pilot program focused on supporting science literacy, countering science-related misinformation, and fostering a role for science in evidence-based decision making. Their project, Development of Inclusive Science Communication Training through an Anti-Racist Lens, received $20,000 to develop an intensive training workshop for graduate students and set of online resources. They aim to develop their project as a model for science communication that can be used across Canada.

With support from the PromoScience grant, InEng will deliver their elementary school-based program, Foundations for Indigenous Futures in Engineering, as part of their goal to expand Indigenous STEM outreach. InEng maintains partnerships with several First Nation communities and their education leadership, as well as works with First Nation schools to provide their community-based outreach programs. They aim to expand outreach and training opportunities directly to teachers of Indigenous students by partnering with more schools and offering online programming. InEng’s goal is to significantly increase educator confidence and fluency in STEM teaching through pedagogical training, course design, and lesson modelling to encourage teachers to integrate more hands-on STEM learning into their regular teaching schedules.

“We are very excited at the expansion of our outreach program through this influx of support from NSERC’s PromoScience program,” says Melanie Howard, Director of Indigenous Futures in Engineering. “With the return to in-person programming allowed by this stage of the pandemic, we are actively recruiting three additional Indigenous educational professionals to join our team for the start of the 2022-23 school year later this fall.”

InEng's Foundations initiative is also focused on inspiring Indigenous students at a young age. By encouraging curiosity and exploration in STEM subjects early in their education, InEng aims to develop a pathway for Indigenous students that inspires them to eventually pursue a career in STEM. Some of their in-person programs include designing classroom workshops that align with the Ontario math and science curriculums with specific focus on making STEM subjects culturally relevant for students and incorporating local context and culture. For example, InEng staff have created engineering design projects that centre around key activities in the harvest ceremonies of the Haudenosaunee communities, math workshops that integrate wampum teachings of the southern Ontario Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee, and robotics lessons that incorporate pow-wow dance traditions.

Over the past decade, InEng has engaged with more than 70,000 youth and community members through activities such as drop-in science events, week-long science camps, and professional development training opportunities for teachers. With their goals to expand outreach, InEng will be structured to support and nurture Indigenous youth on their journey through STEM education by offering targeted initiatives and programs that address their needs as they progress from K-12 to university and, eventually, into their careers. 

For more information about Queen’s Indigenous Futures in Engineering, visit the InEng website.