Aboriginal ambassadors: Fostering curiousity and ambition for engineering in southern Labrador's youth
This past September, after two years of hard work and planning, members of Memorial’s Aboriginal Ambassador Program (AAP) Committee, a partnership between Memorial University, the College of the North Atlantic and the NunatuKavut Community Council, travelled to southern Labrador to speak with Southern Inuit youth about engineering and engineering technology.
The pilot project is part of Memorial’s AAP and was designed to create educational awareness to Southern Inuit students in grades 5-9. Amy Hudson, with Memorial’s Aboriginal Affairs, and Valeri Pilgrim of Memorial’s Aboriginal Resource Office, were two of four individuals who travelled to Labrador.
“The project was two-fold,” said Ms. Hudson. “We wanted to create an opportunity for educational awareness, and, as part of the planning process, interested schools we met with agreed that an introduction to engineering and engineering technology would be a great topic. The committee worked to ensure that engineering concepts were introduced in a culturally relevant manner, resonating with the students and their communities.”
“We also wanted to provide current Aboriginal students from Memorial and/or Aboriginal graduates of Memorial, the Marine Institute and the College of the North Atlantic with a unique opportunity to be ambassadors and talk about their university/college experiences and why they chose engineering as a career.”
During the five-day trip, Ms. Hudson and Ms. Pilgrim and two Aboriginal engineering students visited three schools and presented their personal stories as well as a hands-on engineering-related activity with the students.
Ms. Pilgrim, a native of northern Labrador, believes the initiative benefitted everyone involved.
“There is such an appreciation by the people living in remote Aboriginal communities when we actually visit the communities – it builds relationships,” said Ms. Pilgrim. “For this particular trip, all four of us are originally from Labrador so that was extra special for us and for the students we met.”
Andy Fisher is the associate dean of undergraduate engineering and he was thrilled to be a part of this initiative.
“Any time we have an opportunity to educate youth about engineering, we are excited. The faculty was very eager to help. After a lot of planning, it was rewarding to see it all come together,” said Prof. Fisher.
For the student ambassadors, the trip back home to talk to youth was a unique experience and one they won’t forget anytime soon.
“I was both honoured and privileged to have the opportunity to be a role model for the Aboriginal youth of southern Labrador, and I hope to continually contribute to the motivation for success among Aboriginal youth,” said Brian Pottle, a fourth-year electrical engineering student.
For first-year civil engineering student Sheldon Baikie, the experience reminded him of a time when he was growing up and how much he would have appreciated an opportunity like this one.
“The Aboriginal Ambassador Program is very important for young students in remote Labrador communities. I know myself, growing up in Labrador, I didn’t’ know any engineers and didn’t know what the field of engineering is all about,” he said. “So, it is very important to go to these communities to educate students.”
The hope is that initiatives similar to this one will continue as a way of reaching out to Aboriginal youth in remote areas of Newfoundland and Labrador.
“There is tremendous value in engaging with our youth in a way that fosters ambition and curiosity, and it is our sincerest hope that the ambassador project did just that,” Ms. Hudson said.