Comic encourages Aboriginal education

Aboriginal Access to Engineering creates comic featuring a Queen’s alumna

The cover of the comic featuring Siobhan Dooley.
The cover of the comic featuring Siobhan Dooley.
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A University organization is using a comic book to encourage young Aboriginal students to study engineering.

The comic book I’m a Chemical Engineer follows the narrative of a cartoon version of Siobhan Dooley, Sci ’12, and is aimed at a grade 4 to 8 reading level.

Dooley, who is Aboriginal, is listed as a “role model” with the Queen’s Aboriginal Access to Engineering. She currently works as a chemical engineer.

Queen’s Aboriginal Access to Engineering, which aims to support Aboriginal students currently enrolled in undergraduate engineering programs, created the comic.

They also provide an outreach program to young Aboriginal students and teachers.

Dooley’s caricature links Aboriginal history and tradition with chemical engineering. Current Aboriginal issues, such as pipeline spillages through communities, are also touched on in the comic.

The comic is narrated by a cartoon Dooley who explains why she pursued a career in engineering, what her job as an engineer entails and how chemical engineering can help her community.

Melanie Howard, director of Aboriginal Access to Engineering at Queen’s, led the creation of the comic.

She said its purpose is to show Aboriginal children why education is important.

“The message is: knowledge is power here, and you can make a difference, being educated in [engineering],” she said.

She said the comic was created in order to reach out to a younger demographic, which the organization hasn’t yet addressed.

“We had stuff for very young children, and for high school kids but there was really nothing for that grade 4 to 8 market,” she said.

Students younger than this demographic are provided with a colouring book that describes briefly the role of different engineers, she said.

She added that a curriculum will be developed to go along with the resources.

“[The comic] is out there to say ‘this is a little bit about chemical engineering’, and also takes a look at chemical engineering from a cultural perspective,” she said.

Howard said it was important that the comic touched on issues relevant to the Aboriginal community.

“A lot of the issues that perhaps a chemical engineer would work in are impacting Aboriginal communities,” she said. “Chemical engineers work in the oil and gas companies.”

She said the comic promotes the idea that with education, children will be able to aid their communities.

“Siobhan explains to the boy [in the comic] that if you were a chemical engineer, you’ll be able to help your community through the negotiations regarding oil companies,” she said.

Currently there are 22 Aboriginal students enrolled in applied sciences at Queen’s – a number she hopes will increase.

“The program’s pretty new and we have many more students on-campus than originally anticipated,” she said, adding that she hopes the book will encourage more students to pursue the field.

“Within the Aboriginal community there just aren’t enough people who are engineers. Your average native kid wouldn’t know an engineer,” she said.

She said Dooley’s example shows it’s possible for young Aboriginal students to become engineers.

“[The comic] was trying to make the role models relatable and young so they can actually visualize themselves in the role,” she said.

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