Black student doing experiment

Over the past eight years, Aboriginal Access to Engineering (AAE) has been exceptionally successful in improving Indigenous participation and success in engineering education on a scale that is recognized nationally. Now, a new initiative is using the AAE model to inform outreach activities that encourage Black youth to consider futures in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).

Melanie Howard, the Director of Aboriginal Access to Engineering, is working to recruit 2-4 Black student instructors to develop outreach programming that engages Black children and their families in a number of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) activities. The new initiative has received support from Actua, Canada’s largest STEM outreach organization. AAE is a member of the Actua network.

Howard says the success of Aboriginal Access to Engineering’s outreach relies on a collaborative approach that engages students, families and schools in planning. “It’s critical that everyone is involved in the activities that we develop, so that we create culturally responsive content that aligns with curriculum and resonates with youth and their families.” Howard is also working with the National Society of Black Engineers for guidance, and is currently planning to begin with an after-school club in the Fall.

The AAE initiative is a real success story, with significant increases in Indigenous student enrollment in engineering at Queen’s over the years. “We currently have students in first and second-year engineering who first engaged with us when they were in grade seven,” says Howard. “This past year, we graduated our largest Indigenous cohort to date.” Other graduates have come back to sit on Advisory Councils and act as mentors. Along with outreach in schools, AAE provides culturally relevant student support services to Indigenous students within the Faculty.

“Students are more likely to engage in STEM if they can see others like themselves who have succeeded,” says Howard. “Our outreach activities are one step in helping Black youth see themselves in STEM.”