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Indigenous STEM Conference offers a new world of possibilities May 22, 2018

Over 200 Indigenous students from grades 4-8 participated in STEM workshops, received valuable career advice and experienced university life at the annual two-day conference.

Romyn Montour held his light sabre up proudly, as if channelling his inner Luke Skywalker. He made it himself using LED lights, wax paper, batteries, wires, tape, a plastic cup and tube.

“This was my favourite part of the day,” exclaimed the grade 6 student.  

Montour built the light sabre as part of the electrical engineering workshop, one of several science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workshops held during the annual Indigenous STEM Conference on May 16 and 17. In its sixth year, over 200 students from grades 4 to 8 attended the conference.

In addition to the workshops, students received valuable career advice from a panel of McMaster students; marvelled at a robot demonstration from FIRST Robotics team, MakeShift Robotics; and enjoyed an overnight stay in residence for a true university experience.

“We used to think about preparing students for the next grade,” explained Carrie Froman, a grade 4 and 5 teacher at Jamieson Elementary. “Now, even in grades 5 and 6, we are preparing them for university."

“It opens their eyes to the possibility of attending McMaster and to the many career options outside of our community,” she added.

Tanis Worthy, a McMaster medical student, who is also Metis, joined a panel discussion with four other McMaster students to talk about her career path.

Worthy received her undergraduate degree in engineering at Queen’s University and after a year working at an engineering firm in Ottawa helping First Nations communities, she became passionate about the health aspect of the work and decided to switch gears to become a surgeon.

“I hope that by sharing my experience, kids will explore different careers and things they don’t typically think of or are exposed to,” she said. 

The discussion panel was a new component of the conference this year. Steph Elder, McMaster Engineering’s Outreach Director for Youth Programs, said they strive to make the conference better every year. But the biggest takeaway, according to Elder, is something experienced consistently by kids year after year.

“Whether it’s getting familiar with technology they haven’t seen before, experiencing a different place, or spending the night away from home for the first time, kids get to do something new.”