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Indigenous STEM Day inspires Six Nations Polytechnic youthMay 22, 2019

"There's so much more potential when we have more Indigenous engineers."

Playing video games might pave a pathway to becoming an engineer for Jarrod Wardell, one of several Grade 9 and 10 students from Six Nations Polytechnic STEAM Academy program in Brantford who visited McMaster recently. 

Now in Grade 10, Wardell says he's interested in studying computer engineering. The Indigenous STEM Day event,  hosted by McMaster Engineering, was his second time visiting the institution after participating in its FIRST Robotics competition in April.

Wardell and other students spent Thursday, May 16, 2019 touring campus, building laser tag prototypes using Arduino, an electronics prototyping platform, in the Thode Makerspace.

Jarrod Wardell.

"When I was younger, I spent most of my time playing videogames and I wanted to make games" says Wardell. "My brother did research into making games for a school project and I started doing it myself. I could really see myself being a computer engineer."

His favourite part of the Indigenous STEM Day event?

"Definitely laser tag." 

The event was also Grade 10 student Kayla Squire's second time at McMaster. The first time she visited campus was during a Grade 6 class trip where her class learned how to make bubblegum flavours with the help of McMaster Engineering students. The day sparked her interest in engineering, which she's considering pursuing after she graduates from the STEAM Academy program.

Kayla Squire.

"STEAM Academy is really different from every high school," says Squire. "You find more of what you're into and discover more of yourself... You just have to walk the path."

For STEAM Academy Vice Principal Trevor Gerard, the highlight of the day was seeing his students "get excited about opportunities," which is "one of the best things about working in education, because you see students getting inspired, connecting with the material and dreaming."

Trevor Gerard.

He says events like the Indigenous STEM Day helps students understand that it's not just important to pass courses, but to gain the skills taught in the classroom so they can use them wherever they go.

"Coming to McMaster is a great eye opener for our students," says Gerard. "Having the integration between our schools has been very helpful. It's a big thing for students to be able to see that when you get to college or university, you don't just become this different person. To be able to humanize the experience has been really great."

Santee Smith, who will assume the role of chancellor this coming November, spoke to students about her mission to share her culture not only with other Indigenous people, but with mainstream non-Indigenous audiences through her art, dance and relationships. Smith is from the Kahnyen’kehàka (Mohawk) Nation, Turtle Clan from Six Nations of the Grand River.

"My passion has always been dance," says Smith. "I was taught by my family that everyone has a gift. It's your job to find it and share it."

Santee.

Smith completed six years of formal dance training at Canada's National Ballet School and received a degree in Kinesiology and exercise science, as well as a degree in Psychology from McMaster, and her Masters of Art in Dance from York University.

Her advice for students?

"Be proactive. Don't wait for things to happen for you, or you could be waiting forever. Be persistent. Whatever you do will be hard work, but you have to push through. Do one thing a day that helps get you where you want to go, and be a lifelong learner."

Shylo Elmayan, director for Indigenous Studies at McMaster University, also spoke to students about her role in liaising between McMaster and Indigenous communities, organizations and governments. She was born and raised in Hamilton and is a member of the Long Lake #58 First Nation, an Anishinaabe (Ojibway) First Nation in Northern Ontario.

Shylo.

"My purpose is to make sure Indigenous students are successful at McMaster and that they feel safe and welcome," says Elmayan. "What's so humbling to me is that we're helping future community builders. There's so much more potential when we have more Indigenous engineers."