Workshop offers potential hint of future for First Nations academics

Kyle Bobiwash (left) and Veselin Jungic (right) were two of the presenters.

In an interview with The Peak last week, Director of the Office for Aboriginal Peoples William Lindsay mentioned that there was a lack of Aboriginal academics at SFU. However, there are initiatives in place to fix it for the future.

The sixth annual Aboriginal Students in Math and Science workshop was held on Jan. 14 at the IRMACS presentation studio building at the Burnaby campus under the guidance of professor Veselin Jungic. Over 70 First Nations students gathered to be inspired and indulge in their passion for math and science programs by four prominent math, biology, and astronomy presenters.

One of those researchers was Dr. Edward Doolittle from the First Nation University of Canada, whose aim was to help the students see that they actually have some news or values that they learned in high school can be used in something interesting.

“Ever since I have been in university at the age of 18, I have wondered about what I can do for the people,” said Dr. Doolittle. “I have been interested in math for most of my career. It seems that math is a major problem since not many Aboriginal students enjoy mathematics.”

For his part, he brought forward activities and education on string theory, which included making different shapes and figures from a string, realizing a string figure from a random drawing. String figures have been used throughout many culture groups and each of them contains cultural heritage from which students can learn.

Professor Veselin Jungic from SFU’s Department of Mathematics added that the meeting is also a way to promote scholarships, careers in math and science, and that the four eminent Aboriginal researchers invited to the meeting could serve as new role models.

The workshop reached a wider scope than just students at SFU, as some of the conference participants came from outside the Lower Mainland. Jungic says he is proud that SFU welcomes many Aboriginal students each year. Furthermore, according to SFU institutional research and planning, 7.6 per cent of SFU undergraduate students come from communities outside Metro Vancouver, and over 120 courses that focus on Aboriginal knowledge and issues are offered at SFU as stated by SFU Office of Aboriginal people.

The reaction from students was very encouraging, with those who attended showing fascination and excitement. Students tackled the problems given by the presenters,  and worked on new mathematical puzzles that arose over the course of the day. They said the activities were very fun to do, easy to understand, and caught their attention.

Programs like this could be one of the major keys to fighting lack of Aboriginal academics currently in Canada.