By Kelly Ma
Indigenous perspectives in STEM? Indigenous engineers? Indigineering? These terms may sound awkward and unusual for the typical engineering student at McGill, but they form a part of a broader problem that affects our faculty. McGill University, like many top-tier schools in Canada, lacks diversity in the makeup our student population. While 29.4% of enrolled McGillians are international students, this number drops to almost nothing when we observe the percentage of indigenous students
I myself do not identify as indigenous, nor do I claim to be particularly knowledgeable in such regards. McGill can be considered progressive in many fields (Rez Project, anyone?), but there is a serious lack of support for indigenous students in engineering. McGill itself is situated on the traditional territory of the Kanien’kehà:ka (People of the Flint), a founding nation of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. Currently, the Faculty of Engineering collaborates with First Peoples’ House (FPH) to encourage potential students to self-declare their Indigenous identity when completing their application for admission. This provides new-admits with access to enhanced services, job and career postings, scholarships, awards and bursaries, and social and cultural events.
However, there is little cooperation between our faculty and the McGill branch of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AESIS). Sydney Kuppenbender is a member of McGill’s AESIS chapter, which is involved in providing opportunities and spreading awareness about indigenous involvement (or exclusion) within STEM fields. “We collaborate with Let’s Talk Science Montreal, the Indigenous Student Alliance, the Indigenous Health Professions Partnership just to name a few.” Other universities, such as UManitoba, offer a specialized Engineering Access Program (ENGAP) that addresses the needs of indigenous applicants. This, coupled with outreach operations that introduce STEM fields to younger students, are effective in stimulating an upsurge in indigenous applicants at UManitoba. Since many limitations for indigenous students are systemic, we must place STEM awareness in a position of utmost importance.
What can we do to help? Currently, POWE performs caravan visits at high schools in the Montréal region to increase female enrolment in engineering. Similar initiatives should be taken for indigenous students because there is only so much FPH can do with their limited staff members. Joel Grant, an indigenous materials engineering student, highlights that “maths and physics at the highest level in high school is often not offered in [indigenous] communities”. Moreover, additional scholarships must be created to help finance the cost of residence and tuition at McGill. Without sufficient funding, there are limited resources to boost indigenous enrolment within our faculty. Next, we must consider strategies to retain enrolment once students arrive at university. Upgrading our supply of free tutoring services (make FPH bigger and better!) and mental health facilities would be beneficial for enrolled indigenous students.