Mentoring Indigenous youth
June 7, 2018
First Nations students in grades 10 and 11 have deepened their knowledge of science and health care with the help of some Queen’s graduate students.
The high-school students are participants in a pilot program aimed at giving them a leg up as they prepare for post-secondary studies. They met with their mentors from February through to the end of May.
“The vision of this program is to provide these students with a science-based education opportunity that leaves them feeling inspired, confident, and supported,” says Lisa Doxtator, Aboriginal Community Outreach Liaison at Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre and one of the program’s co-ordinators.
“Our hope is that the students will consider furthering their education in the sciences and will be better established for postsecondary success through this program,” adds Bruce Elliott, Professor Emeritus of the Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine who is also one of the program’s co-ordinators. “The Four Directions Centre provides an ideal supportive home for our program.”
Working alongside Dr. Elliott and Ms. Doxtator are assistant co-ordinators, PhD student Chelsea Jackson and MSc graduate Sarah Nersesian; and graduate student mentors Nicole Morse, Natasha Vitkin, and Matteo Zago-Schmitt of the Queen's Collaborative Cancer Grad Program and the Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine.
The mentors guide the students down one of two streams – a general stream, where the students learn about the scientific method through basic experiences; and a specific interest stream, where they complete a goal-driven project to gain experience in their area of interest.
“I wanted to get involved with the Research Mentorship program to combine my passion for science with my desire to give back to the Kingston community,” says Ms. Vitkin. “In our meetings, my mentee and I perform scientific experiments, go over key concepts, and discuss possible career paths and educational opportunities. I have really enjoyed creating a one-on-one discovery-based environment where my mentee and I learn from each other and explore key scientific concepts.”
Rounding out the team are Scott Nicol and Kelly Maracle, Indigenous Student Support and Engagement teachers with the Katarokwi Learning Centre of the Limestone District School Board (LDSB).
“For the school board, this program has created a post-secondary pathway for our students that attend the River Program at the Katarokwi Learning Centre,” says Ms. Maracle.
The pilot program currently includes three students from the education centre – this fall, the school board and Queen’s hope to expand the program to include more Indigenous students.
"The science mentorship was an enjoyable, interactive, and educational program,” says Mary-Jane Vincent, one of the students. “I enjoyed the variety of hands-on experiments like extracting DNA out of a strawberry and identifying differences between the mentor's and mentee's fingerprints."
As a final highlight, students and their mentors were invited to visit the Department of Biomedical and Molecular Sciences’ Anatomy Learning Centre, where they were hosted by the Anatomy Pattern II program. During their visit, they viewed human body parts and tissues on microscope slides.
This mentorship program was funded by a $5,000 Canadian Institutes of Health Research Synpase grant. The school board has also covered some of the students’ costs.