Nova Scotia

Dalhousie University mentorship program aims to get more black students in math and sciences

Imhotep's Legacy Academy, a Dalhousie University-based program, encourages African-Nova Scotian students to get into sciences by pairing them up with a mentor.

'I really like going to the dentist so I feel like maybe I could be one some day,' says student Eve Wedderburn

Dr. Cinera States credits Imhotep's Legacy Academy with increasing her motivation to become a medical doctor. (Dalhousie Faculty of Medicine)

Dr. Cinera States says her work with a Dalhousie University program that aims to get more African-Nova Scotian students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics helped her realize the impact she could have on young people and further motivated her to become a doctor.

"Really, the insight I gained is that I do have the ability to help inspire the kids to see themselves as being able to do more than they may have imagined or what other people expect them to do," said States, who practises psychiatry at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax.

"And so I felt like once I told the kids that I wanted to do medicine … I felt like I kind of owed it to them to follow it through and make sure that I did it."

The 28-year-old North Preston, N.S., resident was raised in Windsor, Ont. In May 2017, States was one of six students of African descent that graduated from Dalhousie medical school in Halifax — making them the largest group of black medical students to graduate from the university in the same year.

Eve Wedderburn, a Grade 8 Oxford School student in Halifax, does a science experiment while Sidney Idemudia, executive director of Imhotep’s Legacy Academy, looks on. (Sherri Borden Colley/CBC)

During her earlier undergrad at Dalhousie, where she earned a double major in biology and psychology, she worked as a mentor with Imhotep's Legacy Academy's afterschool program.

The academy hires and trains students from university STEM programs to mentor Grade 6 to 12 students at seven schools in communities across Nova Scotia. It also provides summer research internships for post-secondary students and a four-year renewable scholarship, valued at up to $5,000 a year, for program graduates entering Dalhousie.

States went into junior high schools and did science and math activities and experiments with students.  She later moved on to program co-ordinator and then as a junior program officer.

Working with the Imhotep kids, she said she became invested in their academic success. She also couldn't understand why many of them were on individual program plans in school, because they could do the math and science programs she was teaching them.

Wedderburn is enroled in Imhotep's Legacy Academy. (Sherri Borden Colley/CBC)

In 2017-2018, the academy hired 33 part-time staff and engaged 757 students. More than 10,000 students across the province have participated in the program since it began 15 years ago.

Imhotep's Legacy Academy was recently awarded $128,160 in federal funding to purchase science supplies and equipment, train staff and deliver more programming.

"When students don't see people around them in STEM fields, they feel it's not something that they can do," said Sidney Idemudia, executive drector of Imhotep's Legacy Academy.

"So when we start providing them with a lot of mentors who are successful in the STEM fields, like Dr. Cinera States, they will see themselves as people who are able to do STEM." 

Seeing black dentists, engineers and doctors through the program is very empowering and inspiring "because I aspire to be one of them one day," said Eve Wedderburn, a Grade 8 student at Oxford School in Halifax.

This is Eve's second year with the program. She wants to be a dentist.

"It's been a lot of fun and the mentors, they get you to be interactive and engaged in all of the hands-on activities and experiments we do," Eve said. "And I kind of think of it as a triple threat — you have fun, you learn and you make a lot of friends."

Science supplies inside a Halifax classroom (Sherri Borden Colley/CBC)

Eve said her grades in sciences and math have gone up because she's learned extra things she would not have known.

"The sciences that we've learned will definitely give me that extra push in my credits — it will expand my knowledge," she said.

"When I was younger, I used to want to always go to the dentist and everybody would think that I was weird, but I really like going to the dentist so I feel like maybe I could be one some day."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sherri Borden Colley has been a reporter for more than 20 years. Many of the stories she writes are about social justice, race and culture, human rights and the courts. To get in touch with Sherri email sherri.borden.colley@cbc.ca

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