In a decision the selection committee deemed a "welcome surprise," Melanie Howard is the inaugural recipient of the Principal’s Teaching Award for Indigenous Education. Howard is the director of the Aboriginal Access to Engineering initiative in the Faculty of Engineering & Applied Science.

Melanie Howard at mitchell hall
Melanie Howard (ArtSci'95, Ed'98)

Unaware the nomination had been submitted on her behalf, Howard found herself equally surprised by the news.

“I’ve always understood teaching and learning awards to be for academic staff,” she said, “so as I read over the criteria for the award and then saw my work being reflected in the terms, in particular the mention of programs involving meaningful relationship-building and collaborations with Indigenous communities, I rather humbly came to the realization that yes indeed, staff could be considered for this award.”

“I’m an educator first and foremost,” she added, “having come into this role at Queen’s following a career as a teacher in my home community of Kanehsatake. I consider it an honour to have been able to design and build Aboriginal Access to Engineering in a way that serves to increase opportunities for Indigenous learners not only here at Queen’s, but in First Nations communities as well, through our K-12 educational outreach programs in science and engineering.”

“There were a lot of nominations for that award,” said Dr. Sue Fostaty Young, the director of the Centre for Teaching & Learning (CTL) who chaired the adjudication process, a role designed to ensure the process is followed and the award criteria are attended to. Fostaty Young acknowledged there was discussion among the committee as to whether the terms of the award limited consideration to undergraduate programming.

“We went back to the description of the award, and most of all it talked about the impact on education and the impact on changing perspectives and changing opportunities for young people, we realized how great an impact Melanie’s work is going to have,” she said.

“Our youth outreach teams are empowering young people to think about futures in engineering,” said Dean Kevin Deluzio, “and Melanie with her team have developed a process to teach not only students in the classroom but teachers as well. The design of the engagement with specific schools is not to forever provide drop-in STEM experts. By prioritizing the creation of meaningful relationships and engaging directly with Indigenous communities, they equip classroom teachers with knowledge and experience so they can become culturally focused STEM experts moving forward.”

Melanie Howard (ArtSci’95, Ed’98) joined the Faculty of Engineering in 2012 tasked to develop the Aboriginal Access initiative, which soon expanded to include not only holistic support for Indigenous engineering students at Queen’s but also STEM outreach to Indigenous youth in the Kingston area and across the province. While the number of Indigenous students studying engineering at Queen’s grew from three in 2013 to fifty-three in 2020, the youth outreach effort grew to include two full-time community-based staff who routinely visit classrooms in Indigenous communities in the region, and a robust collection of teaching materials which are available free of charge in any quantity to elementary level classrooms across Canada.

Chemical engineering AAE book

“With the graphic novels, they’re intended not only for the kids who are going to be reading them,” said Dr. Fostaty Young, “but also their teachers will read them and they’re going to change their perspectives, and those kids and teachers will have an impact on subsequent kids and teachers and eventually the kids who are reading those graphic novels are likely to become students at Queen’s and, if not at Queen’s, students somewhere else. So the committee recognized that the reach and impact of the work Melanie is doing goes beyond a single course and has the potential to shape attitudes and perceptions into the future. We all felt that it wasn’t what we expected, but it really did adhere to the philosophy of why the award was created in the first place.”

“We were pleased to acknowledge the contributions of staff members to the student learning experience,” she added. "It underscores that we all have a responsibility at Queen’s to be in the teaching and learning game.”