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Dr. Verna J. Kirkness watches as some Grade 11 students fall in love with the scientific method

Visiting high schoolers learn professors are polite, science is cool, and an open mind leads to discovery

May 17, 2016 — 

From May 9-14, forty Indigenous students from across Canada came to our campus to experience the renowned Verna J. Kirkness Science and Engineering Education Program.

The U of M has hosted this program for the past five years and this year UM Today asked two students about their experiences with it: Doug Daigneault, a Grade 11 First Nations student from West Lynn Heights School in Lynn Lake,  MB, and Lily Desmoulins, a Grade 11 First Nations student from Sir Winston Churchill Collegiate and Vocational Institute in Thunder Bay, Ont.

 

Doug Daigneault

UM Today: Before coming to the U of M, what did you imagine a university campus and professors to be like?

Doug Daigneault: I imagined university was a larger scale high school with the classes and strict teaching. Pretty Simple. Now as I have spent a week in the life of a university student I know it’s not like high school, you don’t have to do mandatory classes that you might not like, you can just focus on the things you enjoy doing.

Now that you completed the Verna Kirkness program, what do you think about universities and professors?

I know that the university has so much to offer to many students, with a lot of stuff directed towards Aboriginal students, which applies to me. I have met many of the professors and I will say that they are some of the most polite people I have ever met. They aren’t there to teach you; they are there to enable your hidden skills.

What was your most memorable experience from the week?

It’s hard to pick from the bunch but to narrow it down I would say that getting to know many of the people at the university and in the program was the best experience this week. Everyone provided great hospitality and it made me feel right at home.

What’s the coolest thing you learned?

I learned many cool things in computer and electrical engineering. One of the coolest was learning how to read the schematics of a basic circuit board and how to safely put the pieces in the right place.

Are you going to pursue engineering as a career? If so, specifically want career would you choose?

I loved working in the computer and electrical engineering lab, and in post-secondary it’s about studying what you love to do. And if you love the job you are doing, it will lead to a happier and more successful you. So I will take up a career in engineering, if possible, for Manitoba Hydro.

Lily Desmoulins

UM Today: Before coming to the U of M, what did you imagine a university campus and professors to be like?

Lily Desmoulins: When first posed this question, I thought I knew everything there was to know about university. I have been to Lakehead University (my local university) countless times. I attended Nanabijou Child Care Centre, located on campus, at age four. I attended Odaminomin Culture and Language camp for many years, and I have attended multiple school functions there. On top of this, my mother is a professor at the university. So I believed I had prior knowledge heading into this week. I thought that the campuses would be fairly nice with a potential bathroom or at least a sink. As for the professors I was nervous: after living with my mother for 16 years I can easily say that occasionally, I think she might be speaking a whole different language! I was concerned this may be the case with my professor and I wouldn’t know what they were talking about.

What was your most memorable experience from the week?

This whole week has been full of all sorts of memorable experiences. The one that sticks with me the most was also the one that I was dreading the most. Before arriving, I received an email saying that I’d be going to the Sandilands, about an hour out of Winnipeg. This might sound awesome to some people but I grew up in northwestern Ontario that is pretty much just one large boreal forest. My initial thought was “why am I doing this if I can just go outside and see the exact same things?” Once we got there it was totally different. I was quickly amazed at the diversity of species and how much I was learning about them through this excursion. Dr. Michele Piercey-Normore was so good at explaining everything we were seeing. By the end I could name almost a dozen different species when I saw them! We even got a bag to collect them so I can show my family and friends back home in Thunder Bay. From this I definitely have a whole new outlook on how truly amazing species are. Except the ticks that tried to come along on our trip home.

What’s the coolest thing you learned?

I learned so many new things and ideas this week that it’s hard to pin point one thing. I honestly think that maybe the coolest thing I learned was not from the lab, but what I learned about myself.  I was nervous going into this, I had never done anything like this and I had no prior knowledge on anything that I was going to be doing in my lab. I convinced myself that I was the only one in this position and that everyone else was going to do so much better. But the thing is, we’re all in the same boat. We were all shy, nervous kids and we were scared about our labs. We weren’t in university, and the only knowledge we had to go on was what we’d learned in science class. I quickly learned that I needed to open up, I needed to be completely open minded, and I needed to embrace the experience. Life isn’t about staying in your own personal bubble of comfort: it’s about getting out there, embracing experiences like this, and having as much fun as possible.

Are you going to pursue science as a career?

I had a feeling, before I even had the opportunity to come to this program, that science was my calling. I had always liked science and doing experiments but as a young Anishnaabe girl, sometimes people don’t support your dreams. I’ve been told by teachers at my school that science really isn’t for me: this program changed my outlook completely. Every single person who I met was encouraging, thoughtful, and there for you. They are all trying to help you succeed and achieve your goals, in anyway that they can. This was the type of support that I needed! It definitely changed any doubts in myself that I had. If I thought so before, I KNOW now that a career in science is where I belong. My hope is that, as I transition to university and further, I am able to encourage and assist young Indigenous people like myself, to find their passions for science and belief in their abilities.

Incorporating Indigenous perspectives into learning, discovery and engagement programs is central to Creating Pathways to Indigenous Achievement, one of the pillars of the university’s strategic plan. As part of this commitment, the Office of Indigenous Achievement continues to be an annual sponsor of the Verna J. Kirkness Program.

Research at the University of Manitoba is partially supported by funding from the Government of Canada Research Support Fund.

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