Guiding the way for Indigenous youth: MD/PhD student proves the value of mentorship
It’s an early May morning and chatter fills the third floor of uOttawa’s University Centre. Indigenous high school students from across Ontario stream in, arms filled with bristol board posters and hand-crafted projects. It’s taken nearly five months of work to get to the annual Aboriginal Mentorship Program Science Fair, and they’re ready to show off their final projects.
The Aboriginal Mentorship Program was founded by Let’s Talk Science at the University of Ottawa, and pairs indigenous high school students with university students, with the goal of encouraging them to pursue a career in the sciences.
It’s a proud day for Faculty of Medicine MD/PhD student Taylor Jamieson. She is one of eight mentors, and one of only two Indigenous mentors, in the mentorship program. She hasn’t seen her two “mentees’” final project yet, and is eager to see what they will unveil.
“The aim of the program is to show these students that there is a place where you belong, that continuing your studies is an attainable goal,” Jamieson explains.
Earlier this month, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) awarded a PromoScience grant to Let’s Talk Science at uOttawa, in the amount of $60,000 for each of this year and the two following years. The grant funds outreach to Indigenous communities, including in the North (Northern Ontario, Northern Quebec, and Sanikiluaq, NU); locally through their partnership with the Ottawa Inuit Children's Centre and Wabano Centre; and in rural areas.
For the Aboriginal Mentorship Program, this new funding helps cover the students’ travel to Ottawa as well as their room, board and activity fees. Today’s science fair is part of the program’s annual three-day blitz of activities in the nation’s capital, exposing these young students to the world of science and providing valuable experience in a university setting.
Jamieson has mentored a number of students over the last three years, including the two students here today. She notes how driven the two have become, each year presenting complex topics at this annual science fair.
“They’re interested in learning about so many things,” she says. “This year, they’ve taken on an ambitious joint project about gene editing in babies, conducting extensive research to investigate its pros and cons. Since I’m currently working to develop CRISPR knock-out cell lines as a part of my PhD project, I was delighted to share my knowledge with them.”
As an indigenous student entering university, Jamieson says that she wishes she herself had had a mentor.
“I didn’t have anybody to help me navigate the post-secondary experience,” she says. “Mentoring these students shows them that someone like them has been in this same situation. I’ve been able to share ideas, resources and my own experiences to keep them motivated.”
She excitedly reveals her students’ plans to go into nursing in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and mathematics here at uOttawa, pleased at their ambition.
Wrapping up her third year of the MD/PhD program, Jamieson has been busy with her own scientific research into oncolytic virus therapeutics under BMI assistant professor Carolina Ilkow. Despite eight- to 12-hour days in the lab, she volunteers not only for the Aboriginal Mentorship Program, but for other outreach programs under Let’s Talk Science, as well as being a friend to children during long-term treatment as a CHEO Buddy.
Jamieson has every intention of remaining available to her students as they embark on their own higher education.
Read more about Taylor Jamieson.