For 15 years, Imhotep’s Legacy Academy (ILA) has been creating pathways to higher education for youth of African heritage in Nova Scotia.
ILA, an initiative between Dalhousie University and community partners, is now the recipient of university’s first-ever President’s Award for the Advancement of Equity, Diversity and Inclusiveness for its work in turning thousands of young people onto science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
The award will be presented Wednesday, June 20 as part of the Dalhousie Legacy Awards, a new university-wide awards celebration launching as part of Dal’s 200th anniversary.
“It’s great that we were chosen to be given this award in its first year,” says Sidney Idemudia, ILA’s executive director. “It shows that we are doing something well and it will help us to grow and keep doing what we are doing better with each year.”
A winning mix of supports for students
ILA’s after-school outreach, online tutoring and scholarship programs have proven a winning mix with students, often engaging learners from their junior high days through high school and beyond.
Idemudia attributes ILA’s success to a number of factors, including its focus on keeping learners connected over an extended period and its emphasis on hiring mentors who are themselves of African heritage and relatively close in age to mentees.
“Our programs are being done by people who are like the students we are reaching, and so they can see similarities in what they do and how they do things,” says Idemudia.
It also helps that many ILA mentors — usually university students from Dal and universities near the communities where programming is offered — stick around to work with participants for two or more years.
“That long-term engagement and mentorship between our university mentors and the students that we are reaching kind of sets us apart,” he says.
A growing program
Founded in 2003 by Dal Professor Kevin Hewitt (Physics), Barbara Hamilton-Hinch (then Black Student Advisor, now a faculty member in the School of Health and Human Performance) and Wayn Hamilton (executive director of the Office of African Nova Scotian Affairs), ILA has expanded over the years from its Halifax base to other parts of the province.
“I am proud to see Imhotep’s Legacy Academy flourishing after investing a decade, in partnership with many others, to grow the program from an idea initiated in a small physics lab down the hall from my office to a provincial program impacting STEM success for African Nova Scotian students,” says Dr. Hewitt.
He says the belief and support of Hamilton and Patrick Kakembo, former executive director of the African Canadian Services Division, were critical to sustaining those “critical” early years of growth.
Engaging young people through partnership
Imhotep’s outreach typically begins in junior high and revolves around fun and engaging weekly science and math activities, but the group also runs the FIRST LEGO League — a popular robotics program aimed at children between the ages of 9 and 14.
For students in grades 10-12, ILA shifts to its Virtual School Program, which offers tutoring services both online and in-person as well as fun workshops and other activities aimed at prepping participants for post-secondary studies.
Last year, the group partnered with the Black Business Initiative’s Business is Jammin’ group to launch its new RBC iCode+ Program to teach computer coding to youth.
Participants in ILA’s programs are also eligible to apply for two scholarships, the Summer Student Research Scholarships and the ILA-TD Bank Opportunity Scholarships. The former is open to students of African heritage engaged in an undergraduate degree in science, engineering, health, or medicine at any Nova Scotia university, whereas the latter is a four-year renewable award for ILA grads entering Dal.
Idemudia says he hopes ILA’s win will send a positive message to other groups looking to make a difference in the community.
“We’d like to see other organizations like us start popping up to do other things to make sure there’s diversity in the workforce and in the university and community as a whole,” he says.
Learn more: Imhotep's Legacy Academy website
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