Leaving a legacy

- July 12, 2006

jr high students
Caledonia Jr. High students (seated l-r):  Daniel Downey, Tiffany Ruch-Jones, Gelisa Ash, Cylin Downey. Dal student mentors (standing l-r): Khadija Douglas,
Tesia Rolle (Pearce photo)
When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion
- African proverb

Each session of ImhotepÕs Legacy begins with an African proverb, providing the programÕs young participants with a sprinkling of their ancestorsÕ wisdom. Perhaps none is more appropriate to describe the history and inspiration behind ImhotepÕs Legacy than that of spider webs ensnaring a lion, signifying that people united together can achieve great things.

ImhotepÕs Legacy is an after-school project run as a partnership between Dalhousie University and the Government of Nova Scotia. It provides young African Nova Scotians at local junior high schools the chance to work with university students and professors of African descent to experience the study of science hands-on. The program takes its name from Imhotep, the Egyptian who became the worldÕs first physician and architect of the step pyramid over 4,500 years ago.

The ImhotepÕs Legacy program began in 1999, when Dalhousie physics professor Kevin Hewitt launched a science outreach workshop for African Canadian students while in Vancouver. ÒThe idea was to get local students excited about science, have them see more students of African descent who attend our universities and study in the sciences,” he says. ÒThatÕs why we chose to name the program after Imhotep: we want to remind students that they too can achieve because their people have a history of achievement.”

Partnering with Wayn Hamilton with the African Canadian Services Division of the Nova Scotia Department of Education (now Executive Director of the Office of African Nova Scotian Affairs) and Barb Hamilton-Hinch, coordinator of DalhousieÕs Black Student Advising Centre, the trio established the ImhotepÕs Legacy program in Nova Scotia.

While the program has undergone many changes since its first incarnation, the problem it seeks to remedy still exists: low numbers of African Canadian students pursuing careers in the sciences. Emmanuel Nfonoyim, who has served as project coordinator since 2004, believes that the personal connection that ImhotepÕs Legacy provides is central to dealing with that reality. ÒWe use common household items and provide a positive, informal environment with lots of participation and input from everyone,” he explains. ÒThe students feel valued in whatever they have to say.”

Role Models

ÒWe have a great team,” says Nfonoyim. ÒThatÕs why this program works so well.”

Two of the most important members of that team are Tesia Rolle and Khadiji Douglas, the programÕs student mentors. On Tuesdays during the school year, they visit Caledonia Junior High School; on Thursdays, St. PatrickÕs-Alexandra School. At each school they find a classroom of 10 to 15 students, eager to find out whatÕs on the agenda for the afternoon.

It might be a session on optics and light, where students build a pinhole camera. It could be a session on polymers, disguising itself as a chance to play with slime. Or, in the most popular lesson, the students may be learning about the physics of music by making their own harmonious compositions. Often theyÕll get out of the classroom altogether, on field trips to DalhousieÕs Faculty of Engineering, the Bedford Institute of Oceanography and the Discovery Centre.

Rolle and Douglas, undergraduate science students at Dalhousie with ambitions in dentistry and medicine respectively, hope that their own enthusiasm for the sciences influences the students they work with. Sharing laughs about the more entertaining moments from the past year, theyÕre also conscious of their importance as role models for these young students.

ÒBeing one of those people that others can look up to is big to me; plus, I get to have fun with kids,” says Rolle. ÒActually, itÕs more than fun. ItÕs enriching. ItÕs the highlight of our week.”

Celebrating Success

This July, the organizers of ImhotepÕs Legacy held their closing ceremonies at the Halifax Citadel Hotel. The dinner recognized the young students with certificates for their participation, and showed off the work thatÕs been done over the past year. Administrators and parents alike championed the program for its positive role in the community.

Having grown up as an African Nova Scotian, Hamilton-Hinch is proud to be part of ImhotepÕs Legacy. ÒWeÕre there because we believe in the community and this opportunity,” she says. ÒImagine the doors being opened for these young people. ItÕs great to be a small part of that success.”

As the programÕs organizers look to the future Ð Hewitt hopes that with further funding the program can expand to include younger students and stretch across the province Ð they also reflect on how the experience of working together to make a difference has changed them.

ÒWe all start to enrich the lives of the students,” says Nfonoyim, Òbut we end up enriching our own lives as well.”

ImhotepÕs Legacy is a partnership between the Faculty of Science, the Department of Physics and Atmospheric Science, the Dalhousie  Black Student Advising Centre, the African Canadian Services Division of the Nova Scotia Department of Education, and the Office of African Nova Scotian Affairs. For more information on the program, visit its new website at imhotep.dal.ca

You may have noticed Ryan McNutt's name attached to a number of recent Dalhousie News stories. Ryan is a graduate of the NSCC public relations program who is working with Dalhousie's Communications and Marketing department for the summer.


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