If you ask almost any Black or Indigenous student how many teachers in their educational careers have been Indigenous or Black, the number would be barely enough to count on one hand, if not zero. Narrow the lens to the world of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), and the outlook only gets worse.
In 2014, researchers in the United States found that when students from underrepresented minorities were taught by teachers from underrepresented communities, the performance gap between the minority students and their white peers closed between 20 to 50 per cent (Fairlie et al., 2014). While the American context and scope of the study make it impossible to generalize their findings to the Canadian context, it’s safe to say that representation in education matters. When students do not see themselves reflected in their field, it presents an added psychological barrier to their ability to see themselves in that field. It’s hard to imagine a life you’ve never seen someone like you live before. It is this representational gap and its impacts that the University of Alberta, in collaboration with the Indigenous Black Engineering Technology (IBET) PhD Project, is working to address.
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