Indigenous high school students get inspired at UBC

Indigenous high school students from across Western Canada attended this year’s week long Verna J. Kirkness Science and Engineering Education Program at UBC.

This past May, the Verna J. Kirkness Science and Engineering Education Program and UBC hosted 31 Indigenous high school students, where they immersed themselves into campus life, including enjoying quality time in science and engineering labs doing hands-on research.

In addition to being mentored by professors and graduate-level students, the grade 11 and 12 students lived in residence, met Indigenous role models, and learned about supports that are available to UBC students.

Mayenda Jones, a grade 11 student from Hazelton, in northwestern B.C., received a scholarship to attend this informative and inspiring program, along with 30 other students from across B.C., Alberta and Manitoba.

Mayenda’s research lab project was hosted by the Faculty of Forestry, where she was involved in analyzing the stomata of different cottonwood tree leaves and comparing trees that grow in northern and southern parts of the province. By the end of the project, she said learned that “trees in the north have more stomata per unit area of leaf, so they grow faster, but they don’t grow as tall due to having less daylight.”

Meyanda Jones poses by the Wolf and Wolf Pub Housepost at the UBC First Nations Longhouse.

She said she looks at trees differently now that she has learned more about them.

Faride Unda, a postdoctoral fellow with the Tree Molecular Biology Lab, was one of Mayenda’s mentors. She got involved with the program because she likes to encourage students to explore science, and is particularly interested in promoting women in STEM. “I had the pleasure of working with Mayenda. I think she really took it all in. She was very organized, always taking notes and paying attention. I just hope that Mayenda and the rest of the students feel inspired by the experience and I am very happy to be a little part of it,” she said.

Related: Program gives Aboriginal secondary students up-close look at university science studies

A personal highlight of Mayenda’s experience at UBC was seeing the magnificent Wolf and Wolf Pup Housepost at the university’s First Nations Longhouse. It was carved by her uncle Chief Walter Harris, a Gitsxan carver from Kispiox, and his son Rodney. “My father told me about the carving a few years ago, so I was very excited when I got to see it in person,” she said.

Thomas Berger, former B.C. Supreme Court Justice and Commissioner of the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry, and a sponsor of the program, attended a dinner held in honour of the students. “I found the evening to be a remarkable demonstration of how, with the kind of mentorship and backing that the Kirkness Program provides, Indigenous high school students can experience the excitement that may await them in a science career,” he said.

Mayenda’s post-secondary plans include a possible career in sports medicine, and after her week on the beautiful UBC Point Grey campus, she may well pursue her dream there.

The Verna J. Kirkness Science and Engineering Education Program encourages Indigenous high school students to pursue post-secondary study and to make a positive difference in their home community. This is the third year of the program’s partnership with UBC.

Gerry Brach, MEd (UBC ’90), is a director with the Verna J. Kirkness Science and Engineering Program.

Page Modified: November 16, 2018

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