U of S Kamskénow Program brings science to community schools

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The University of Saskatchewan’s PotashCorp Kamskénow Outreach Program helps to get youth involved in the sciences, and, with new funding from the Natural Sciences and Research Council of Canada PromoScience, they will be able to continue running the program.

The Kamskénow Outreach Program works with 22 Saskatoon community schools to help teach grade school children math and science. The program, which runs for 13 weeks, teaches students in grades four to 12, with each school receiving two science outreach instructors during this time. Additionally, on the final week of the program, students are brought onto the U of S campus to conduct activities in a lab.

This program has been running since 2009 and seeks to increase mathematic and science literacy with the long term goal of increasing Aboriginal participation in the sciences. This is done Kamskenow Program - Jeremy Britzthrough hands-on activities conducted with undergraduate and graduate students, who work as the science outreach instructors.

Lana Elias, director of science outreach for the College of Arts and Science at the U of S and overseer for the program, explained Kamskénow’s vision.

“We want to get youth inspired and excited about the opportunities in science. We want all youth regardless of ethnicity, gender [and] socio-economic status to see opportunities to be inspired and empowered by a future in the sciences,” Elias said.

According to Elias, undergraduate and graduate students are able to get involved with this program as they offer employment every fall and again in January.

“Our science outreach instructors are university students that apply to be part of the science outreach team. They are actually employed science outreach instructors, so it is an interview process they go through,” Elias said.

While there are certainly academic requirements for applying to be a science outreach instructor, Elias also mentions that she looks for passionate candidates during the hiring process.

“I look for people that are exciting and engaging and love working with kids. [People who] know how to have fun and have a breadth of experiences to draw on and really love learning,” Elias said.

While the program provides an opportunity for the kids involved, Elias notes that it is also beneficial for the student instructors.

“Being able to give university students an experience working in a community and serving in schools and connecting with kids really gives them a broader understanding of some of the needs in our community. So I just think that experience alone has been a great learning opportunity for our science outreach instructors,” Elias said.

As stated on the Kamskénow’s webpage, their long term aim is to get more Aboriginal involvement in the sciences and, as Elias explains, the name of the program fits this goal.

“In its first year, the program was offered at Southern Hill Community School, and the Elder Katie Poundmaker, along with the grade four class who was participating, worked together to give the program a new name and that was Kamskénow, and it means ‘to find or to learn as a group’ in Cree,” Elias said.

The new funding from NSERC PromoScience this year will mean the program can operate for another three years, and this allows for the program to not only continue but also to expand.

“Right now there is a lot of demand for the program, more than we are able to fulfill. Which is a huge compliment and wonderful to be in that much demand. It will certainly help us to increase our capacity, as well. Being able to have three-year funding means that we can do some forward planning, which is just wonderful, and be able to kind of think about what we’re doing in the future and also help us to invest in some equipment that we can use longer term,” Elias said.

Elias also has her own personal reasons as to why she enjoys working with the Kamskénow program.

“I think it’s a real privilege to get to work with youth. I think for me one of the most rewarding things is actually welcoming students to campus the very first time. It’s one of those things that I think that people on campus … take for granted, how amazing this place is where there is so much learning and new knowledge that’s created here.”

Jack Thompson / Staff Writer

Photo: Jeremy Britz/ Photo Editor