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May 23, 2002 Concordia's Native Access to Engineering Web site wins honours



NAEP Program

The program aims to keep aboriginal youth in school.

by Barbara Black

Concordia’s Native Access to Engineering Program (NAEP) Web site gained international exposure this month when it was chosen one of the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse’s “Digital Dozen” for May 2002.

The ENC is a major math and science education Web portal based in the United States. It serves to identify effective curriculum resources, create professional development materials, and disseminate useful information and products in the field.

The NAEP project was conceived in 1993 by the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science in cooperation with the Quebec Order of Engineers, to address the low participation rate of aboriginal people in the applied sciences in Canada.

This had long been an interest of NAEP founder Corinne Jetté, a member of the Tuscarora Nation, who teaches technical writing in the Faculty. Dawn Wiseman, the program coordinator, had got involved in science programs aimed at schoolchildren as an undergraduate in engineering. She became so galvanized by the work that she is now integrating her experience into her MA project in media studies.

In 1998, with financial help from the government of Canada, they launched the NAEP Web site so that teachers and students, many of them in isolated communities in Canada’s North, could be provided with an introduction to engineering and science tailored specifically for them. Over the past year, the Web site has been redesigned, and the introductory page says it best:

“First Nation communities are growing. They need more housing and hospitals; improved roads and runways; safe sewage and water treatment. To support this growth, First Nations need people who know the communities and can build the future while honouring the past: teachers and doctors; politicians and nurses; entrepreneurs and engineers.

“We work with the engineering profession and academic institutions, as well as government and business, to develop programming which will encourage aboriginal youth to stay in school and pursue post-secondary studies in the pure and applied sciences.

“Most importantly, we work with First Nations communities — students, teachers, parents, elders and leaders from across Canada — to ensure that the programming we produce is relevant and meets the needs and expectations of the community. Cooperative partnerships of this kind are crucial.”

The Native Access to Engineering Program Web site, at www.nativeaccess.com, is bright and attractive and offers nearly 1,000 individual pages and more than 1,500 links to external sources. It’s full of ideas bound to appeal to these students, including games, puzzles and intriguing links.

“Ancestral engineering” describes the practical problems that had to be solved for survival in the rugged conditions of the past. “Community projects” describes current work in their own backyard, such as the launching of satellites and scientific instruments near Churchill, Man., and the sophisticated geographic information system (GIS) that is helping some of the Shuswap people of B.C. protect their traplines and sacred grounds from inappropriate development.

Other NAEP projects include a resource guide on where to study engineering across Canada, curriculum sets for teachers with connections to math and science that are relevant to First Nations students, and a professional development conference called DreamCatching. The NAEP also participates in local, regional, national and international events such as academic conferences and career fairs.

Partners in the Web site project include the Office of Learning Technologies (Human Resources Development Canada), the Learning, Employment and Human Resources Development Directorate (Indian and Northern Affairs Canada), and the Ministère de l’Éducation du Québec, with ongoing involvement from IBM Canada.