June 28, 2019

Engineer-in-Residence program creates ethical space for parallel pathways to begin

Intercultural Capacity Building Grants can help bridge gaps and build new perspectives; apply by June 30

The Schulich School of Engineering’s Indigenous Engineer-in-Residence program was piloted in the fall of 2018 , thanks to the ii’ taa’poh’to’p Intercultural Capacity Building Grant.  

Deanna Burgart, an Indigenous engineer and business owner (pictured above), was selected for the role and has spent the last 10 months guiding and facilitating conversations across Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, professionals and post-secondary staff and students.

During the pilot program, Burgart engaged with students in engineering classes, hosted open office hours, led campus-wide workshops on Indigenous inclusion, and participated in the design of engineering graduate attribute assessment. One of Burgart’s most compelling initiatives was a STEM retreat, held in Banff in April 2019. It was designed to bring together Indigenous and non-Indigenous STEM professionals, educators, and community members. The retreat focused on how best to support Indigenous youth in STEM through K to 12, into post-secondary and beyond.

This session was held with the guidance and opening blessing of Elders Reg and Rose Crowshoe and Rev. Vivian Seegers, Burgart’s birth mother. Over half of the participants were Indigenous, and a great deal of diversity in nations and backgrounds was represented.

“This retreat was so impactful because much of it was delivered in an Indigenous way, in a talking circle, and people were encouraged to share their stories and challenges from the heart. By acknowledging and participating in Indigenous cultural practices, I believe non-Indigenous people can develop a greater perspective and understanding,” says Burgart.

Qiao Sun, senior associate dean of diversity and equity at the Schulich School of Engineering, attended the event and described her experience as transformative.

“As we set out in our journey of ii’taa’poh’to’p, we recognize a key to success is in fostering an authentic relationship between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples that is based on mutual respect and trust. The Indigenous Engineer-in-Residence program is designed in the very spirit of transforming our ways of being and connecting. Attending this event allowed me to see the program in action.”

The importance of an open mind

Perhaps the most far-reaching strand of wisdom to emerge from the retreat was the importance of meaningful listening. Alison Barrett, an attendee at the talking circle and specialist in diversity, teaching, and learning with Schulich, summed up the concept perfectly: “I think the most compelling piece for me was the dedicated focus to truly listening within the circle. Too often in life, we listen as a means to an end — we’re simply waiting for our own chance to speak. The talking circle demonstrated the significance of allowing voices other than our own to catalyze action and inspiration within ourselves.”

The essence of Barrett’s quote can be broadly applied to reconciliation at the University of Calgary and, more specifically, at Schulich. Genuine, meaningful progress can only come when both sides come to the table prepared to understand and engage without assumptions and with an open mind. 

Jasmine McDermott, a third-year mechanical engineering student at Schulich, was also in attendance at the retreat and found it to be inspiring. “As an Indigenous student, my journey has been one of learning and reclamation, largely aided through opportunities that Schulich has provided or otherwise aided me in pursuing.”  

Bringing Indigenous perspectives to engineering education

Beyond the workshops and activities led by Burgart across the institution, she is also beginning to play a hands-on role in crafting the next generation of engineering curriculum. She’s using this opportunity to ensure that Indigenous traditions and perspectives are not only acknowledged but also integrated into the mainstream of the profession.

As she begins a master’s degree in engineering education at the University of Calgary, Burgart is poised to make far-reaching change — both in the engineering profession and in broader Canadian society.

“It isn’t something that will evolve overnight, but the foundations we are trying to build will enable meaningful change," she says. "With these updates and consultations, it is my hope that future Indigenous engineers are able to see themselves — and their heritage and history — in their post-secondary experience in new and compelling ways.”

Contribute to Indigenization and decolonization at UCalgary

Do you have an idea for a project of your own that you’d like to bring to life? ii’ taa’poh’to’p’s Intercultural Capacity Building Grants are available to all current UCalgary students, faculty and staff. Receive a grant of up to $10,000 to help UCalgary’s Indigenous Strategy in its vision to Indigenize ways of knowing, doing, connecting and being on our campus. Application deadline is June 30.

Find full details and guidelines for the grants. 

ii’ taa’poh’to’p, the University of Calgary’s Indigenous Strategy, is a commitment to deep evolutionary transformation by reimagining ways of knowing, doing, connecting and being. Walking parallel paths together, ‘in a good way,’ UCalgary will move toward genuine reconciliation and Indigenization.