OWA Helps Further Aboriginal Access to Engineering

Photo (above): OWA and Queen’s University Signing Ceremony (2012): Back Left — Duncan Cree, Assistant Professor Queen’s University, Paul Norris, President of OWA, Mark Green, Professor and Acting Head of Structural Engineering Queen’s University, Front Left – Melanie Howard, Director Aboriginal Access to Engineering, right Valerie Helbronner, OWA Chair


The Ontario Waterpower Association is demonstrating — through its involvement in a program called Aboriginal Access to Engineering — its organizational view that all people in Ontario have a stake in waterpower.

By Stephanie Landers

Communications and Public Outreach Coordinator at Ontario Waterpower Association

In northern Ontario, waterpower accounts for 85% of the regional energy supply. In its role as a not-for-profit hydroelectric industry organization, the Ontario Waterpower Association (OWA) is using a partnership with Queen’s University Faculty [School] of Engineering and Applied Science in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, to ensure that under-represented community stakeholders have educated voices in determining the future of waterpower throughout the province.

In October 2012, Queen’s University Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with OWA to develop initiatives that support a program called Aboriginal Access to Engineering (AAE).

According to the university, AAE provides culturally relevant support services to Aboriginal students enrolled in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science. Working in partnership with the Four Directions Aboriginal Student Center at Queen’s University AAE strives to support the academic, physical, spiritual and emotional needs of students. Through AAE, students have access to tutoring and exam preparation sessions, mentoring opportunities with practicing Aboriginal engineers, and liaisons with industries particularly interested in the development of Aboriginal engineers through summer employment, internships and permanent positions.

AAE is an extension of Queen’s University Engineering Programs, as such, industry partnerships are developed between different engineering industries and the university. The MOU between AAE and OWA has targeted outcomes that include professional and sociological-based Aboriginal community participation in Canada’s waterpower sector.

According to OWA, the amount of degreed engineers working in the waterpower industry who are Aboriginal is not reflective of the need for Aboriginal involvement in developing, managing and continued cultural relevance of the vast water resources in Ontario.

Many waterpower projects in Ontario are being developed in the northern part of the province, where the land is home to Aboriginal communities. Ontario has 134 First Nations communities and, demographically, the Aboriginal population is growing much faster than the average.

“Educating Aboriginal youth is of significant importance to the waterpower industry and our association,” said Paul Norris, OWA president. “Our collaborative efforts with Queen’s University have produced a great resource that highlights future opportunities for youth, which will encourage them to become more interested in science, math, engineering and technology.”

View from the inside of a Tee-pee traditional shelter used by Canadian First Nations in and around the Plains and Great Lakes regions.

In conjunction with technical training, government funding, academic excellence and planned projects, AAE is counting on harnessing one of society’s most powerful forces — life at home.

As with other professions, people learn about engineering through someone they personally know, be that a relative or family friend. By strengthening science and engineering education opportunities for Aboriginal youth beginning in kindergarten and continuing through grade 12, AAE’s unprecedented inculcation sends engineering directly into Aboriginal homes and communities.

According to Melanie Howard, AAE director and herself a band member of the Mohawks of Kanehsatake, “Aboriginal participation in any field begins with building an awareness of both the profession and why it is important in peoples’ lives.

“Because Aboriginal people are significantly underrepresented in the field, our children may not have access to that type of casual learning. Part of our role is to promote not only the profession, but also Aboriginal role models currently working in the profession so that youth see the Aboriginal engineers in the field and perhaps visualize themselves as engineers.

“Engineers are needed for Aboriginal communities to more effectively realize economic and technological development. Aboriginal engineers can help with capacity building for these communities.”

The OWA-Queen’s partnership began via the redevelopment of “What Engineers Do,” an educational activity book for elementary-aged children that focuses on linking Aboriginal traditional knowledge to varied types of engineering careers and other opportunities. OWA provided advice on the inclusion of waterpower and in translating the book into the Ojibwe and Oji-Cree languages. Also available in English, French and Mohawk, “What Engineers Do” is widely available across Ontario and all of Canada, as well as through online editions.

AAE in action

Queen’s University will facilitate the Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) program through funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Resource Council of Canada (NSERC).

Through CREATE, key programs, such as AAE, will be funded to train young researchers as they transition from academia into the Canadian workforce.

“Collaborative partnerships with industry are an essential element of this initiative,” said Mark Green. Green holds a PhD in engineering and is the project lead and associate head of the Department of Civil Engineering at the Faculty of Engineering and Science. The Queen’s University iteration of CREATE is a multi-year initiative that focuses on overcoming sustainable engineering challenges associated with providing water power to remote northern Canadian locations. NSERC funding will pay costs associated with training students in advanced sensing technology for application in planned sustainable energy projects.

CREATE is a means for AAE to flow Aboriginal student participation into an established program.

OWA promoted the initiative through the strength of its membership. OWA members volunteered to provide internships to AAE participants. Students will study Aboriginal culture, sustainability, business skills, and research to address three areas of national interest: natural resources and energy (sustainable energy, energy efficient buildings), communications technologies (sensing, structural health monitoring), and economic development and education for Aboriginal peoples.

AAE student enrollment has significantly increased from 12 students — who are also recent graduates — at the time of the signing of the MOU in 2012, to 31 students and recent graduates in the 2014-15 academic year. Students are enrolled in disciplines across the engineering programs at Queen’s, including chemical, civil, mechanical, and mining as well as in the rigorous engineering science programs in geological engineering, math and engineering, and engineering physics.

Currently, employer liaison is casual, but OWA partnership has enabled member companies to reach out directly to students for summer internship possibilities. We welcome employer interest in both our program and its students. For the past two years, OWA has extended conference participation opportunities to our students in order that they might network with OWA member company representatives.

Encouraging the next generation of Aboriginal engineers by education through partnerships will prepare future leaders and ensure that waterpower continues to be the backbone of Ontario’s electricity system for generations.

For more information on the AAE program, log on to www.AboriginalAccess.ca.

More HR Current Issue Articles
More HR Archives Issue Articles
Previous articleCybersecurity and hydropower: Speaker lineup announced for free webcast
Next articleTool to Predict TDG for the Columbia River Basin

No posts to display