Aug. 20, 2018

Leaving home, attending university not so scary for Indigenous learners after summer camp

Power to Choose program helped health sciences student pick UCalgary for a career
Amy Beevor-Potts applied to the University of Calgary's Bachelor of Health Sciences program at the Cumming School of Medicine after attending the Power to Choose summer camp. This summer she's working in Savraj Grewal's lab in the Health Research Innovation Centre at Foothills Campus.
Amy Beevor-Potts applied to the Cumming School of Medicine after attending Power to Choose. Pauline Zulueta, Cumming School of Medicine

Amy Beevor-Potts has always dreamed of becoming a doctor. Growing up in Salmon Arm, a member of the Coastal Salish Sts’ailes Nation, she considered moving from B.C. to pursue post-secondary education. However, the University of Calgary’smedical school wasn’t on her radar until her parents encouraged her to attend the Power to Choose summer camp.

“After camp, I could see myself here,” says Beevor-Potts, Bachelor of Health Sciences (BHSc) student at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM). “I got a really good sense of the courses and opportunities for research at UCalgary.”

Beevor-Potts is working as a summer student at the Cumming School in the lab of Dr. Savraj Grewal, PhD. She’s assisting a trainee who is researching hypoxia (low-oxygen states) in adult drosophila or fruit flies. She took a break to return to summer camp to meet with this year’s group of students.

“They’re all so smart! Camp is an incredible opportunity to meet other Indigenous youth interested in science, or those who are developing an interest in science. In my experience, I met people from this territory who I wouldn’t have had a chance to meet otherwise,” says Beevor-Potts. “It can be scary to think about university and leaving your community, but through camp you start to build community here.”

Dr. Lindsay Crowshoe, MD, associate professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the Cumming School of Medicine, shows a camper how to cast a broken arm, by demonstrating the technique on a balloon. Crowshoe is one of many faculty throughout UCalgary who spent the week introducing Indigenous students to careers in medicine, engineering, veterinary medicine, science and arts, just to name a few.

Dr. Lindsay Crowshoe, MD and associate professor, shows a camper how to cast a broken arm.

Pauline Zulueta, Cumming School of Medicine

Power to Choose brings together Indigenous learners from both urban and rural areas throughout Western Canada. Students in Grades 4 to 6 attend as day campers. Students in Grades 7 to 12 can attend for a day or the week, and have a choice to stay in residence.

“I loved staying at Yamnuska Hall during camp, we had the whole place to ourselves,” says Beevor-Potts. “I actually ended up living there during my first year in university.”

Last summer, Beevor-Potts gave a presentation to summer campers as part of her role as an ambassador for UCalgary Native Centre’s Youth Outreach and Leadership Training N.A.P.I. Program (Native Ambassador Post-Secondary Initiative). In that role, Beevor-Potts had a chance to travel to remote communities to talk to Indigenous youth about post-secondary education as an option.

“That experience had a profound impact on me; it’s taken me in a new career direction. I really want to become a physician and work primarily with rural Indigenous communities,” she says.

Power to Choose - University of Calgary

Many of the students who attend summer camp don’t have their career aspirations confirmed just yet, but through their journey at camp, they’re introduced to potential careers in engineering, arts, veterinary medicine and science, just to name a few.

“We have students and faculty members from throughout UCalgary who come together to host workshops and creative sessions for these kids,” says Dr. Wendy Hutchins, PhD, an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Infectious Diseases and a member of the CSM’s Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases. “We want to give students the power of choice in their careers by keeping science subjects in their studies through high school.”

Hutchins started the camp eight years ago with support from the Alberta Women’s Science Network (AWSN). The camps grow a little each year and in 2019 will be co-ordinated by Meagan Twissell, programming specialist for Indigenous Programs at Continuing Education, in partnership with the indigeSTEAM Society.

Power to Choose, now hosted by the indigeSTEAM Society, is supported by a number of UCalgary-based partners including:

  • Let's Talk Science, the Schulich School of Engineering, Cybermentor, the Faculty of Science, the Cumming School of Medicine, Alberta Indigenous Mentorship – Health Initiative Network (AIM-HI), BHSc program and their laboratories, Rothney Astrophysical Observatory, Minds in Motion, Native Centre and NAPI ambassadors, Doucette Library, UCBookstore and Parking Services.

Support from the broader community comes from AWSN, FIRST Robotics/FIRST Society of Western Canada, the Global Association for Indigeneering Alliance, First Light Initiative, Indigenous STEM mentors as well as corporate and private donors.