Motivating minds: Funding will engage youth in modern science, marine science projects

May 8th, 2019

By Jeff Green

The Department of Ocean Sciences is expanding its hands-on marine education program. Photo by David Howells.
Motivating minds: Funding will engage youth in modern science, marine science projects

New federal funding is allowing Memorial to continue fostering the next generation of young innovators and cultural leaders through a series of unique community programs.

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) is investing a total of $64,000 into a pair of projects focused on engaging youth throughout the province.

The funding is awarded through the PromoScience Program. The latest competition results were announced on May 2 at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, Ont.

Grenfell Campus was awarded $34,000 for the project Open Space: Engaging Teens in Western Newfoundland in Physics and Astronomy, and the Department of Ocean Sciences, Faculty of Science, was awarded $30,000 for the project Opening the World of Marine Science to Rural Newfoundland.

‘Beauty of our universe’

The team at Grenfell Campus consists of Dr. Svetlana Barkanova, professor, physics, School of Science and the Environment; Dr. Maria Kilfoil, manager, Makerspace (opened by Grenfell’s Navigate office); and Prof. Renate Pohl, assistant professor, technical theatre production, and resident designer, theatre program. Physics instructors Dr. Taslima Anwar, Seanne Chung, Victor Hayden and Steve Day are also part of the team.

Dr. Barkanova says the aim is to engage with community partners on the West Coast.

“By building on complementary expertise and resources at Grenfell Campus, the Qalipu First Nation and Parks Canada, we plan to develop a long-term scientific and cultural outreach program for youth in the Western Newfoundland region, especially rural youth, girls and Indigenous students,” she explained.

“The program will emphasize beauty of our universe, feature female and Indigenous role models, engage Indigenous story-telling, discuss career opportunities, and emphasize a diverse set of skills required in modern science such as co-operation and communication.”

Sara Leah Hindy, education and youth team lead for the Qalipu First Nation, has been working with Dr. Barkanova and Parks Canada to craft night sky experiences.

“Oral story telling is woven into the fabric of Mi’kmaw culture and reflects the way our people have, and continue, to relate to the natural and supernatural world,” she explained.

Dr. Barkanova’s plans include Grenfell Observatory tours and other related activities delivered by Grenfell Campus faculty, staff and students, as well as volunteers from the Qalipu First Nation and/or Gros Morne National Park staff.

They also plan to visit schools in Western Newfoundland and develop programming for science and dark-sky related community events at Gros Morne National Park.

Enriching experience

Thanks to the new NSERC funding, the Department of Ocean Sciences is expanding its hands-on marine education program to more students in rural parts of the province in grades Kindergarten to 12.

Classes currently offered in St. John’s will be mounted in Champney’s West, a small community located in Trinity Bay, which is home to an aquarium and teaching laboratory.

“Our program provides a unique opportunity to enrich the minds of students in new and engaging ways, which in turn helps them to gain a better understanding of the subject material as it relates to the learning outcomes,” said Danielle Nichols, research marketing manager and program co-ordinator, Department of Ocean Sciences.

She says the department has reached more than 3,000 high school students, largely from the Avalon Peninsula area and some communities in Eastern Newfoundland in the past five years. Ms. Nichols says she’s excited to increase that number.

“With support from NSERC PromoScience, we hope to expand our educational programming to more rural areas through collaborations with the Champney’s West Aquarium and the Ocean Learning Partnership(OLP), as well as through busing subsidies for rural schools,” she noted.

“Our program also supports graduate student teaching positions, which allows them to not only deliver the programs and showcase their enthusiasm for their research, but also provides a conduit for their participation into curriculum development.”

NSERC’s PromoScience program offers financial support for non-profit organizations working with young Canadians to promote an understanding of science and engineering, including mathematics and technology.


Jeff Green is a senior communications advisor with the Office of the Vice-President (Research). He can be reached at



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