When Maranda Cherry arrived on the Queen’s campus to begin her first-year studies in 2018, she worried she wouldn’t find anyone familiar to her. The Engineering Physics program was a definite draw, but she was also looking for a community where she could balance her studies with her culture. She quickly found her home with Indigenous Futures in Engineering (InEng; formerly known as Aboriginal Access to Engineering).

“Moving across the country was definitely a big change for me,” Cherry says, who grew up in Vancouver. “So having resources available, having that community aspect as a home away from home, was huge.”

InEng supports the journey of future Indigenous engineers from elementary school through university. Along with outreach programs for elementary and high school students, it provides a broad range of academic and social support for engineering students at Queen’s, from tutoring and dedicated study spaces to social events and opportunities to participate in national and international conferences.

“The overall mission of this program is to increase the number of qualified Indigenous engineers in Canada,” says Melanie Howard, the Director of InEng. “We engage with students through the entire journey, from the early years to their time at Queen’s and then as they seek out job opportunities and become engineers.”

Cherry says that InEng has provided her with a surprising number of opportunities to explore her engineering passions through an Indigenous lens. “I love rockets,” she says, “and Melanie asked if I wanted to start an Indigenous rocket team on campus. I said of course I do! It’s a great way for me to balance my culture with my education.”

The team now participates annually in the NASA-sponsored First Nations Launch competition where last year it placed second overall. “On top of that, we won two category awards,” says Cherry. “The aesthetic award for our rocket and also the written report award.” In 2019, the Queen’s team became the first outside the United States to participate. A multistep competition, they had to present their adapted rocket designs throughout the fall and winter terms.

This isn’t just a hobby but stepping stones to a career in aerospace engineering. “After I graduate, I plan on going into post-graduate study,” she says. “I'd like to get a Masters of Aerospace Engineering, and even a PhD. Then I'd like to work in the private aerospace sector. Maybe somewhere like Rocket Lab in New Zealand or something like SpaceX.”

Queen’s became the first Canadian university to ratify a campus chapter of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) in 2018. Later incorporating individual members across the country, “AISES in Canada” presents national gatherings and provides opportunities for Indigenous students to network with Indigenous leaders and meet mentors. Maranda Cherry is currently Co-President of the Region 6 chapter, along with Queen’s Chemical Engineering fourth-year student, Jacob Calderone.

Lisa Paz is the Senior Director of Engagement and Advocacy at AISES, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She says that the Queen’s program has empowered students to reach out past their comfort zone. “The first two Canadian national student reps were both Queen’s students,” she says. “Melanie gave them the encouragement and support to apply, and they just blossomed into natural leaders. There have been some really excellent students that have come out of Queen’s.”

“Indigenous Futures in Engineering to me means that we’re looking at things much more broadly,” says Howard. “We’re not just an access point to education. We’re nurturing the next generation of Indigenous engineers and leaders who will contribute to a better world.”



This article is one of five in a series regarding the newly renamed Indigenous Futures in Engineering. To learn more about this initiative, please visit: Aboriginal Access to Engineering is now "Indigenous Futures in Engineering"