What is the NSERC CREATE: SERA program?

SERA booth

Please note that the program has ended and a report has been published to celebrate the success achieved!

SERA meeting participants

Providing engineering services in northern and remote areas poses significant challenges and opportunities for Canada’s future. As a result, engineers with an understanding of the issues related to working with Indigenous communities and in remote areas are in high demand. The NSERC CREATE Program in Sustainable Engineering in Remote Areas (SERA) was a program created to provide training in sustainable building, energy projects, advanced sensing, cultural sensitivity, law, ethics, and business skills through a unique combination of academic training, industry internships, seminars, workshops, and cutting-edge research. Specifically, the program focused on the following key initiatives:

  • TRAINING: program participants took a series of seminars and short courses from leading experts in three core areas, namely A) Indigenous cultural, legal and policy issues, B) business skills, and C) social issues and sustainability standards.
  • INTERNSHIPS: trainees spent 20% of their time (approximately four months for a two-year Master’s student) working with an industry partner through paid internships, gaining practical, real-world experience.
  • RESEARCH: students worked together with faculty supervisors on innovative research projects in two main streams:
    • Renewable energy systems, including advanced monitoring techniques and sustainable technologies such as solar, wind, hydro and biomass.
    • Sustainable and energy efficient buildings, including non-conventional locally available construction materials (e.g. straw bale construction, switchgrass), lightweight building systems and structural health monitoring systems for northern and remote areas.


The NSERC CREATE: SERA Training Program was targeted at engineering graduate students and undergraduate Aboriginal students at Queen’s University, University of Manitoba, University of Ottawa, and the Royal Military College of Canada with an interest in renewable energy or sustainable building technologies. Graduates of the NSERC CREATE: SERA program have become well-equipped leaders in their fields as a result of the one-of-a-kind training they received through seminars and workshops, advanced technical expertise obtained through high-level research projects, valuable practical experience gained through industry internships, and new perspectives resulting from first-hand visits to remote Indigenous communities.


The main training goal was to enhance the education of graduate students by intertwining technical research with cultural sensitivity, ethics, sustainability concepts, and business skills in a collaborative approach connecting researchers in engineering, science, policy studies, and business to members of industry and Aboriginal communities. Trainees have had several opportunities for professional development through formal and informal training as well as industry internships. In addition to conducting world-class, cutting-edge research, trainees in the SERA program have received specialized training in the following core areas:

Aboriginal issues

Each year, 8 seminars on Aboriginal culture, legal, and policy issues were offered in partnership with Aboriginal experts and Elders. Four of the seminars focused on cultural and historical issues such as the different Aboriginal nations, the importance of ceremonies, and intergenerational effects of colonization and residential schools. Other seminars discussed legal and policy issues such as ownership of property on reserves, the fiduciary responsibility of the Crown, and the duty to consult Aboriginal peoples regarding engineering projects. These seminars also featured role models such as successful Aboriginal engineers and successful engineering projects conducted in collaboration with Aboriginal communities. 

Social issues and sustainability standards

Students participated in 6 to 8 seminars on sustainability and climate change, and received training in internationally recognized standards in sustainable buildings, and sustainable energy development. These issues are of extreme importance in Aboriginal culture given its close relationship to nature. Training included a critical review of concepts related to sustainable buildings, such as passive design, embodied energy, natural building materials, and an introduction and critical assessment of various “rating” systems for buildings, such as BREEAM, LEED, and Living Structure. Speakers emphasized case studies where Aboriginal groups have been empowered to make decisions. Every student also received training in environmental, arctic, and energy policy as well as the impact of climate changes on the way of life in northern Canada.

Business skills training and internships

A week-long short course on skills such as financing, business plans, and planning was taken by all students. Special issues related to financing on Aboriginal territories were discussed with participants. In addition, topics such as business ethics, governance, building and leading teams, the role of networks in developing mentors, peer relationships, business communication, marketing, and case studies of successful Aboriginal businesses have been addressed.