Our Program's Story
The Science Ambassador Program was founded by Dr. Julita Vassileva
In August, 2012, The Honourable Lillian Dyck, awarded Dr. Vassileva a Certificate of Congratulations for her work as NSERC/Cameco WISE Chair and her Chair's lasting legacy of support for excellence in community-based science teaching and learning.
Dr. Vassileva was inspired to support Aboriginal student success in science after recognizing that the prairies have the largest proportion of people of Aboriginal ancestry in Canada, and they are the fastest growing segment of the population. Science, engineering, and health sciences have a lot to lose if the talent and perspectives of such an important demographic remains underrepresented in continuing science education!
Along with colleagues Dr. Chary Rangacharyulu (Physics) and Dr. Lee Wilson (Chemistry), Dr. Vassileva envisioned a way to share the youthful enthusiasm and energy of University science ambassadors with remote schools. The Science Ambassadors would enrich the students' science curriculum with hands-on activities, long term placements would allow the skills and knowledge base of the Science Ambassadors to connect with specific needs of each learning community, and provide time for the development of mentoring relationships. After returning to the University, Science Ambassadors would act as a living-link to the community, a contact to provide information about post-secondary opportunities and student life.
Piloting the Program
In 2007/2008 Dr. Julita Vassileva brought the idea to life as the NSERC/Cameco Chair for Women in Science and Engineering for the Prairies Region. Two Science Ambassadors, Chemistry graduate student Dawn Pratt and Physics graduate student Danielle Anderson, spent six weeks working with students and teachers in Muskoday and Beardy’s Okenasis First Nations, SK, and The Pas and Opaswayak Cree Nation, MB. The pilot was a success and the Science Ambassador Program was born.
Read about the early years of the program at Julita’s WISE Blog Site
With Science Ambassadorships sponsored by the NSERC/Cameco Chair for Women in Science and Engineering, The University of Saskatchewan’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Health Science Colleges, Provincial and Industry support, the Science Ambassador Program grew every year - from 4 communities in 2008 to reach 12 communities in 2016.
Science Ambassador Program Celebrates Continued Growth. Read More >>
Evaluations conducted by Dr. Julita Vassileva between 2006 and 2011 showed that working with Science Ambassadors is associated with a positive change in students’ attitudes toward science, engineering, and related careers. Science Ambassadors report gaining confidence and enthusiasm for cross-cultural teaching and learning, and have brought their new awareness of and appreciation for Aboriginal culture and community home to the University. Teachers value Science Ambassadors as a source of professional development for themselves, as well as a precious resource for their students. Reports summarising formative feedback have been completed since 2012 by program Coordinator Dr. Sandy Bonny and can be accessed on our home page under 'Learn More'.
Changing hands, but not heart
In 2012, with the completion of Dr. Julita Vassileva’s term as NSERC/Cameco Chair for Women in Science and Engineering, The Science Ambassador Program moved under the supervision of Dr. Peta Bonham-Smith, Vice Dean of Science, coordinated by Dr. Sandy Bonny. The program has continued to grow and develop in relationship with participating communities and parallel programs on campus and in 2015 we had a record 20 Science Ambassadors working with 9 returning and 2 new communities, 152 teachers and educational assistants, and 2200 students (96%) of whom are First Nations or Métis.
In July 2015, Dr. Peta Bonham-Smith was appointed interim-Dean of the College of Arts & Science, and the Science Abmassador Program has found an ideal home within the family of programs offered through the Office of Science Outreach; a strong campus advocate for improved accessibility to Post Secondary Education for all of Saskatchewan's Students.
"Remember that the future comes from behind you, and if we are to create a new future, we must recognize that the future is now and know that the universe is breathing and imbued with intelligence"
- Paula Gunn Allen, American Indian scholar and poet