Science Ambassador ProgramPublished on 3 December 2014 Hansard and Statements by Senator Lillian Eva Dyck
Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck:
Honourable senators, in August of this year, I attended the 2014 Science Ambassador Program celebration at the Diefenbaker Canada Centre in Saskatoon.
The Science Ambassador Program was created in 2007 by Dr. Julita Vassileva, when she was the NSERC/Cameco Chair of Women in Science and Engineering on the Prairies. Since 2012, the program has been taken over by Dr. Peta Bonham-Smith and Dr. Sandy Bonny from the College of Arts & Science at the University of Saskatchewan, with support from many other colleges on campus. The program is also sponsored by Cameco, the University College of the North, the Nuclear Waste Management Organization, the Government of Manitoba, NSERC and the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority.
The program connects the disciplinary expertise of senior and graduate university students with remote Aboriginal community schools that face financial and logistical challenges accessing quality STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — instruction. Science ambassadors are hands-on academic mentors, who are making science fun and relevant, one community at a time.
Between 2012 and 2014, science ambassadors were placed in 10 northern communities in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. In 2014, science ambassadors worked with 143 teachers and community educators, reaching 1,860 students, 91 per cent of whom are First Nations or Metis.
Participating communities provide room and board and cultural support for their science ambassadors during their four- to six-week spring placements. Working alongside teachers, science ambassadors actively support creative and culturally relevant STEM teaching capacity. They act as science contacts, lead hands-on experiments and science labs, mentor students about continuing education, and connect with communities by joining in with extracurricular and cultural events and facilitating open events like science fairs and teas.
The goal of community-engaged STEM outreach is to actively counteract stereotypes of STEM learning that conflict with Aboriginal self-identity and community connectedness, allowing students to recognize science as an exciting, multicultural domain with opportunities for individuals to contribute a diversity of strengths.
The learning goes both ways. The science ambassadors gain new skills and cultural capacities that enrich their studies and will inform their future work as STEM professionals.
The program has already achieved measurable success in achieving its long-term goal of increasing the representation of Aboriginal youth in post-secondary STEM disciplines and related careers. All communities currently participating have requested to be involved next year, with an additional two to three new communities already ready to join the 2015 program.
Teachers in all communities report improved attendance in science classrooms during science ambassador placements. Qualitative surveys demonstrate a positive correlation between time spent with science ambassadors and attitudes towards science and engineering, and 40 per cent of students in 2014 indicated an interest in a STEM career.
I would like to congratulate all of those involved with the science ambassadors program for their dedication and hard work in making this program such a success.