In a significant stride towards fostering diversity and inclusion in STEM education, Dr. Sheryl Staub-French, a professor in UBC Civil Engineering and the Associate Dean of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) in the Faculty of Applied Science, has been awarded NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada) funding to bolster the Geering Up initiative. This initiative is poised to make a substantial impact on STEM education and outreach in British Columbia, with a particular focus on Indigenous youth and teachers.
The grant funding will propel Geering Up’s outreach efforts, targeting approximately 3,000 Indigenous youth through a series of workshops, events, and land-based camps, transcending geographical barriers to ensure that every aspiring young mind has access to quality STEM education. The significance of this initiative cannot be overstated, especially in light of the fact that while Indigenous individuals make up between 4-5% of the population, their representation in engineering programs remains under 1%.
So, why the particular focus on Indigenous youth? Indigenous communities in remote regions often lack access to programs like Geering Up. To bridge this gap, Geering Up plans to send instructors directly to these communities, removing the geographical barrier that has hindered access to STEM education.
The reach of Geering Up is extensive, covering a vast expanse of British Columbia, from Prince George in the north to the U.S. border in the south, and even venturing to Vancouver Island. The program is run by a dedicated team comprising Geering Up staff and undergraduate students who work tirelessly to provide mentorship and guidance to aspiring STEM enthusiasts.
Indigenous program instructors have worked with 25 communities annually, bringing STEM education to their doorstep. A notable pilot program brought Indigenous youth and chaperones to campus, fostering connections between students and resources at UBC.
But the Geering Up initiative doesn’t stop at geographical inclusivity; it also aims to weave Indigenous culture into the fabric of engineering education. By collaborating with Indigenous knowledge keepers, the program seeks to establish a strong sense of belonging within the engineering community for Indigenous youth, providing them with mentorship and support.
Moreover, Geering Up offers substantial training opportunities, with staff members receiving comprehensive training before spending a week in the community. Importantly, these staff members don’t have to be engineering students; anyone with a passion for STEM and a desire to inspire young minds can contribute.
But that’s not all. The grant also supports professional development workshops for 2,000 BC teachers. These workshops are designed to enhance hands-on learning and create inclusive STEM environments. They are structured in two distinct delivery types – one comprised of professional staff delivering five-hour teacher professional development workshops, and other focusing on classroom workshops for teachers and their students, in multiple BC school districts. The teacher program has not only impacted 2,000 Canadian teachers but also reached 2,000 international teachers through online workshops and courses.
The impact of this grant is bound to extend far beyond the numbers. It’s about laying the foundation for a future where STEM education is truly inclusive, where Indigenous youth and teachers have the tools, knowledge, and support to succeed in STEM fields, and where diversity in STEM, particularly in engineering, is no longer an aspiration but a reality.