University of Winnipeg biochemistry student, Evan Loeb, and honours physics student, Melissa Anderson, are leading the way for Indigenous students studying science to have increased access to networking, peer support, and mentorship during their studies.
They are inviting all Indigenous students studying science to join them as they form UWinnipeg’s first chapter of The Canadian Indigenous Science and Engineering Society (.caISES).
It is important for students to see successful role models, so they know what opportunities are available to them.
Dr. Melanie Martin
Anderson learned about AISES from UWinnipeg alumnus, Mark Abotossaway, who spoke at an Indigenous Students in Science event at UWinnipeg in 2018.
“He is the only other Indigenous person I know to pursue a physics degree,” said Anderson. “He told me about the AISES leadership conference in Montreal last year, and encouraged me to attend. The conference was inspiring because I didn’t know there were so many Indigenous students in STEM.”
Loeb also attended the conference as a presenter, and after seeing the support network the organization provided, was inspired to start a UWinnipeg chapter.
“I saw the potential for .caISES to open doors in the form of jobs and personal development opportunities that might not be available, or as accessible, without an organization like .caISES,” he said. “When I was in my first few years, having some direction and knowing I had resources from like-minded students would have help me immensely, so I am very excited to give back and help grow this group on campus.”
Abotossaway has been a mentor and role model to Loeb and Anderson as they launch the UWinnipeg chapter. He joined .caISES when he moved to Minnesota to pursue UWinnipeg and UMinnesota’s dual physics and engineering degree. He is now a structural analysis engineer for Boeing, the world’s largest aerospace company. He is also vice-chair of the .caISES Professional Chapter Council, a professional member of the .caISES Indigenous Advisory Council, and an .caISES Sequoyah Fellow.
Abotossaway says .caISES provided him with invaluable learning and networking opportunities, such as the chance to compete in NASA’s student launch initiative competition and attend national conferences. He would like future Indigenous students to access similar experiences.
“Being First Nation and studying STEM has unique challenges, as students are faced with keeping traditional values and beliefs while learning modern scientific techniques.” he said. “Meeting peers pursuing the same goals and academic degree had a huge impact on my career. I was able to develop a support network across the country, and I was no longer alone in my struggles.”
Physics professor Dr. Melanie Martin has also been an important mentor, working as a faculty advisor to help Loeb and Anderson establish the group on campus.
“I’ve met many students who believe they are the only Indigenous students studying science on campus,” said Martin. “It is important for students to see successful role models, so they know what opportunities are available to them.”
Martin is also behind the recent creation of UWinnipeg’s NSERC-funded Pathway to Graduate Studies program. Anderson had the opportunity to teach in this program last summer.
Anderson and Loeb are excited to launch AISES at UWinnipeg, the sixth recognized student chapter to form in Canada. Other chapters are in place at the University of Manitoba, University of British Columbia, Queens University, McGill University, and the University of Saskatchewan. There is also one professional chapter in Canada, the Saskatchewan Professional Chapter, which is hosting the .caISES 2020 Gathering, a conference Loeb and Anderson look forward to attending alongside other .caISES members.
The Canadian Indigenous Science and Engineering Society provides networking, peer support, and mentorship to Indigenous STEM students, providing opportunities to explore undergraduate and graduate opportunities, discover career pathways, engage with Indigenous STEM professionals, and network with scholarship-granting organizations and corporations looking to hire.
To learn more about joining UWinnipeg’s .caISES chapter, email UofWAISES@gmail.com.