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Reaching out, lifting up

In higher education, we often use the phrase “STEM” to describe the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Recently, some—like Universities Canada—have broadened this to “STEAM” to recognize the important role of the arts and humanities. Either way, in many of these fields, underrepresentation—of women, of historically-marginalized groups—has been the norm.

The only way we can change this is by expanding access to education—reaching out into our communities, opening doors, and creating new pathways into higher learning. Dalhousie’s ground-breaking Transition Year Program, for example, has been increasing access and the success of Black and Indigenous students at Dalhousie for nearly 50 years.

That spirit of community outreach can be found in efforts across the university to promote participation and diversity in STEAM subjects. Among them:

Imhotep’s Legacy Academy which over the past 15 years has grown from a small after-school program to a province-wide initiative that engages 650 junior and senior high school students of African descent each year.
SuperNova a not-for-profit initiative that provides youth across Atlantic Canada with engaging, fun science activities at in-class workshops and summer camps.
Faculty of Computer Science’s “Closing the Gender Gap” project which aims to double the number of first-year female students in 2018, with an overall target of 40 per cent women in its undergraduate student body by 2021.

There is much more work to be done. Going forward, we need to build on these and other past and current successes like the Indigenous Blacks & Mi’kmaq Initiative in the Schulich School of Law, PLANS (Promoting Leadership in health for African Nova Scotians) and the Aboriginal Health Sciences Initiative.

In doing so, not only will we improve diversity and inclusion on campus—thus enriching our classrooms, broadening our contributions to the community, building a more vibrant scholarly community. We will also help ensure that the next generation of scientists and scholars are better prepared to push knowledge and innovation forward, and to tackle the great challenges of our time. That will build a better Dalhousie—and a better world.