Six Ontario universities have partnered to create a new fellowship program to expand the pathways for Indigenous and Black students pursuing engineering PhDs.

“The objective of the Indigenous and Black Engineering and Technology (IBET) Project is to have future engineering faculty as well as PhD students complement and better reflect Canadian society,” says Tiz Mekonnen, Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Waterloo and the inaugural director of the IBET Project. “Only when Indigenous and Black professors are fairly represented in the classroom and teaching the next generation of engineers and technologists, will we be able to recruit more Indigenous and Black students, which increases diversity in the talent pipeline.”

The IBET Fellowships are a partnership between the engineering and math faculties at the University of Waterloo and the engineering faculties at the University of Toronto, McMaster University, University of Ottawa, Queen’s University, and Western University. Each university has committed to funding a minimum of one IBET Momentum Fellowship of $30,000 per year for five years. These fellowships will allow recipients to pursue their PhD and undertake both traditional and/or non-traditional areas of research without incurring financial hardship.  

In addition to the Momentum Fellowships, the IBET Project also addresses two other barriers to representation: a networking platform and a mentorship program.  

“Developing and nurturing a robust networking and mentorship ecosystem with academic, industry and community support is essential to the IBET Project,” Mekonnen explains. “By supporting Indigenous and Black PhD candidates through defined mentoring programs, which include youth outreach, access scholarships for undergraduate and master’s programs, online/in person networking, we will build an engineering and technology talent pipeline.”

The IBET Project is based on a successful program in the United States designed to increase the presence of Black academics in business schools. Based on the success of that program, it is clear that fostering equitable research environments, providing fellowships, and creating mentoring opportunities will support the success of Indigenous and Black academics, which will have a positive impact on the diversity of engineering student bodies writ large.  

“How can we ask our prospective Indigenous and Black high school students to consider pursuing an engineering and technology education, if they don’t see professors who look like them or have shared cultural experiences as them?” questions Mekonnen. “Representation in strength matters, and the lack of representation in the classroom has hindered the enrolment of Indigenous and Black students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs. by working towards increasing representation in the front of classroom, we can anticipate an overall increase in representation amongst the student bodies.”

The mentorship program is an integral component for the IBET Project and a diverse pool of mentors is required for the success of the project. Mentors will serve as role models for doctoral students, and engineers from academia, industry, and government who have gone through the rigorous doctoral process are encouraged to become mentors. Interested engineers can sign up to be a mentor here.

Published June 30, 2021 Article, Equity, diversity, and inclusion Copyright © Engineers Canada. All rights reserved.