Getting to create holograms, build electric cars, robots and telescopes probably scores pretty high on the cool factor scale for many junior high students.
These are just three of the more than 70 hands-on science and mathematics experiments and concepts in the Imhotep’s Legacy Academy’s (ILA) After-School Program curriculum. For more than a decade, the Dal-founded initiative has been increasing participation of students of African heritage in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) — subjects in which they are typically underrepresented.
“Many students of African heritage don’t aspire to science and technology in their studies and careers,” says Sidney Idemudia, Imhotep’s executive director. “When you remove certain barriers to participation — economics, racial issues, lack of role models and others — there are real success stories.”
New federal funding for Imhotep
A new source of federal funding by NSERC’s PromoScience grant, announced today (Monday, Sept. 17), will enable ILA to continue its STEM outreach programming to young African Nova Scotia learners. The three-year grant of $42,720 per year, provides partial funding for science activity lab supplies. It also enables the Academy to continue hiring and training student coordinators and mentors — mostly of African heritage — from universities across Nova Scotia.
Those students, mentored by professors and provided professional development and training, then work for Imhotep’s After-School Programs for students in grades 6 to 12.
Idemudia credits much of Imhotep’s success to this tiered approach to mentoring. ILA programs have introduced STEM to more than 2,000 students at participating schools across Nova Scotia in the last three years. More than 30 of those students have gone on to attend Dalhousie University – most in science and engineering. An equal number have gone on to post-secondary education at other institutions as well.
“This funding from NSERC will enable Imhotep’s Legacy Academy to continue overcoming barriers to participation in science and technology programs by young people of African heritage right across Nova Scotia,” says Idemudia. “We see a meaningful impact where youth participants in our programming develop a long-term involvement in science and technology that lasts right through to university.”
Role models for learning
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), the ILA After-School Program has expanded over the years from a one-school pilot project in Dartmouth to other Nova Scotia communities including Halifax, Truro, Canning, Kentville, Antigonish and Sydney.
ILA recognizes the importance of students seeing themselves reflected in their mentors, especially as many of those students don’t have teachers of African heritage in their communities. Student mentors often build close relationships with participants and that develops their confidence.
Asher Trim-Gaskin, Imhotep’s program manager, echoes how important it is for participants to learn about other Black trailblazers like Mae Jemison (the first Black female astronaut in space, and Bessie Coleman, who is known to be the first African American woman to hold a pilot’s license) and for students to learn the skills that will be critical to them later in life, such as team work, collaboration and cooperation.
“Participants come to understand that anything is possible — their dreams and aspirations are attainable,” says Trim-Gaskin.
Read more: Learn about Haley Matthews, a current Dalhousie electrical engineering student, former Imhotep program participant, and now ILA mentor.
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