Q: Please tell us about yourself and the path that led you to The Aboriginal Science and Technology Education Program (ASTEP).
Arney: I've worked in Aboriginal Education for the last seven years at both the secondary and post secondary level. Most recently I spent five years at Native Education College and worked with students in a wide variety of capacities there. I came here to Mount Royal University in part because they are truly committed to Indigenous student success. They are in the process of bringing in an Indigenous Strategic Plan and are actively committed to increasing the number of Indigenous students at MRU and increasing the awareness of Indigenous history among all students.
Q: Can you please share a few words about ASTEP, what is it and why was it created. Also, share with us a few of ASTEP’s principal programs and initiatives (include a mention about he Iniskim Centre)?
Arney: The ASTEP program is a student support program run through the Iniskim Centre at Mount Royal University. It includes Academic Supports including tutoring, study spaces, and advising, Co-Curricular Supports including meetings with key faculty, science based events, and lectures, and recruitment activities including science & technology workshops and events for high school students.
Q: In your opinion, what are the top 3 reasons for the low STEM participation of Aboriginal Canada?
Arney: The most recent statistics actually show that Indigenous people are participating in the STEM fields in the same number as non-Indigenous people. The difference is in the education and position level. Indigenous people have a lower rate of post secondary education, and that is especially true in STEM fields. The result of that is that although participation is the same Indigenous people without degrees can't be promoted to the same level as those with degrees. What it comes down to is that there isn't a problem of interest so much as one of qualifications. And that's what the ASTEP program is there to help, and I know a number of other institutions are doing that as well.
Q: How can we increase the number of Aboriginal Canadians in Engineering and other STEMS disciplines?
Arney: A key issue is access. A lot of Indigenous high school students, especially those at rural schools, don't have the same kind of access to gateway classes as their peers in larger schools, or they've been encouraged to take non-academic paths when they are more than capable of taking the academic route. This can lead to fewer students attempting the STEM fields because they don't think they can get into it. This is why programs like ASTEP are important. They help students currently in post secondary to succeed and encouraging high school students to go into the STEM fields. It also encourages them to take those required classes. That way we increase the number of Indigenous students and ensure that they succeed and can become ambassadors encouraging other people to attend.
Q: Finally, please tell us about the importance of integrating Indigenous and Aboriginal knowledge and science in the STEM education in Canada.
Arney: Integrating Indigenous knowledge looks different depending on the field but for a number of fields it comes down to context and the land. We need to make sure that we are situating our teaching in the correct context - cultural, historical, land use, legal, etc. But as we do so we need to remember and recognize both that there is no one Indigenous context and insure that Indigenous voices are the most prominent voices in the conversation.