Kyle Bobiwash (left) and Veselin Jungic (right) at the Aboriginal Students in Math and Science workshop.


SFU Aboriginal Math and Sciences workshop attracts high school students from across BC

January 15, 2016

By Ian Bryce

As the 2016 school year begins, Aboriginal high school students across BC are planning their future and applying to post-secondary institutions. To help make that decision easier, Simon Fraser University offered a free workshop in math and sciences.

Over 70 Aboriginal students—some from as far away as Bella Bella—came to SFU for the 6th annual Aboriginal Students in Math and Science workshop on Thursday, January, 14.

The students met with four prominent Aboriginal researchers in biology, math and astronomy to immerse in the program offerings.

One of these researchers was Kyle Bobiwash—a biology PhD candidate studying the effects of pollinators on blueberry crops.

Bobiwash has a family history with blueberries and ecology. “My grandfather used to manage the biodiversity of the forest,” says Bobiwash. “He would take down hardwood trees to encourage the growth of blueberries and other beneficial plants.”

Bobiwash began his post-secondary education in bio-medical sciences at the University of Ottawa. He then pursued a master’s at the Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute in Southern Ontario. His research has lead to a doctorate of science in biology at SFU.

“When you’re good in science and math the ultimate job is to be a doctor,” says Bobiwash. “But, when you go to university, you have the opportunity to take your time and really find that thing that you love the most.”

Bobiwash says that there is a lot of support in the form of scholarships that encourage Aboriginal students to go into arts, justice or health science programs but not as many for pure science and mathematics.

Looking at SFU’s own statistics, 65 percent of Aboriginal undergraduate students are enrolled in arts and social science programs while only 16 percent are in math and science.

Veselin Jungic, a mathematics professor, wants to encourage more Aboriginal students to choose science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs. He invited Bobiwash and professors from University of British Columbia, University of Calgary and First Nations University of Canada to present at the workshop.

“These scientists are role models for young people,” says Jungic. “I hope that this will be an event that students are not going to forget any time soon. They are learning from four Aboriginal scientists that are highly successful in their fields.”

The annual workshop is organized by the Math Catcher Outreach Program, the SFU Office for Aboriginal Peoples, the Faculty of Science, the Pacific Institute for the Mathematical Sciences, and the SFU Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in the Mathematical and Computational Sciences.