» Go to news main

Empowering future STEM leaders through Imhotep’s Legacy Academy

Posted by Engineering Communications on February 16, 2024 in News
Elisabet Astatkie prepares to lead a group of youth to this weekend's FIRST LEGO League competition
Elisabet Astatkie prepares to lead a group of youth to this weekend's FIRST LEGO League competition

Elisabet Astatkie is exactly where she loves to be; amidst the colourful walls of Imhotep’s Legacy Academy (ILA), surrounded by her peers and friends. Here, the fourth year Dalhousie Industrial Engineering student feels a sense of belonging and comfort. This is her safe space. This is her favourite place at Dalhousie University.

Operating out of Dal’s Sexton Campus, ILA offers a warm and supportive environment where students ranging from elementary to university can visit, learn and dream. It’s a space designed to inspire. And that’s exactly what ILA has been doing for over 20 years; impacting the lives of African Nova Scotian youths by making STEM (Science, Technology, Math and Engineering) subjects accessible and fun.

It’s a big week for Astatkie as she prepares for ILA’s FIRST LEGO League competition (FLL); a dynamic and immersive event designed to engaged young students in STEM through the world of robotics. The tournament is taking place this weekend at Acadia University. The competition provides a platform for students aged 9 to 14 to showcase their creativity and problem solving skills by designing, building and programming autonomous robots using LEGO Mindstorm kits.

Astatkie is leading a group of students to the competition. She’s their mentor, their role model and their leader. Despite a hectic academic schedule filled with exams, assignments and other extra-curriculars, she says she can’t think of anything else she’d rather be doing this weekend.

FLL is one of many initiatives ILA offers to African Nova Scotian youth. To steer their initiatives, the organization recruits university students such as  Astatkie to deliver their STEM programs. Mentors serve as role models to youth, helping them discover who they are, and what they are capable of doing.

For Astatkie, ILA holds a special place in her heart, emerging as the pinnacle of her university journey so far.

“ILA makes me feel as though I’m part of something. I get to be around my people. Any chance I get, I’m here,” she says.

Discovering passion through involvement

Her journey with ILA traces back to her high school days when she first learned about their programs and mentorship opportunities. Keen to bolster her academic performance, particularly in the rigorous International Baccalaureate (IB) program, she eagerly engaged in ILA’s virtual school program. Witnessing her scores soar, Astatkie recognized the transformative power of mentorship and educational support.

“Since coming to Dal I almost immediately started helping out with ILC (Imhotep’s Learning Community). Now I’m just deeply involved in ILA,” she says who also earned an ILA-TD Opportunity Scholarship through her involvement with the organization while in high school.

Reflecting on her time with the organization, Astatkie radiates joy and fulfillment, acknowledging how her involvement transcends mere volunteerism. For her, it embodies a profound sense of community and purpose.

“I’m here (ILA) between my classes, to study, to get a break, to relax to eat. I’m able to see other Black students come in and I’m able to form a connection with them,” she explains. “This has helped me meet students in other years and in other disciplines throughout engineering. Having a space on campus is such an important thing for us. I feel like we’re all in this together. I don’t feel alone in engineering.”

Being part of a supportive community has been instrumental in shaping Astatkie’s academic journey, opening doors to various extra-curricular activities such as her involvement with the Dalhousie African Student Association, and her role as VP Finance for the Dalhousie Industrial Engineering society.

“Through all of my activities, I’m starting to realize what I like. I used to say that I just liked math, but I’m truly enjoying my discipline and through my work as VP Finance, I’m realizing that I like the business side of things.”

The opportunities have prompted Astatkie to contemplate her post-graduation plans, hinting at a possible MBA in the future.

For now however, there are sessions to plan, presentations to prepare, and students to mentors as Astatkie gears up for this weekend’s FLL competition.

“I hope the students participating in ILA programs truly appreciate it for what it is: a community ready to support and guide them in any way we can. As a former ILA participant and current mentor, I have experienced both sides of the organization's programs and can appreciate them for how beneficial they are,” says Astatkie. “My participation in high school has led me to become a scholarship recipient and be part of a community. These are , opportunities I would never have received on my own. ILA has definitely impacted my life, and I hope the FLL students will experience a similar impact onto their lives as well"