Chris Mara: Putting First Nations students on the map in STEM
Year: 2018 – Province: Ontario
Certificate of Excellence Recipient
Wasse Abin Wikwemikong High School
34 Henry Street
Wikwemikong, ON P0P 2J0
School telephone: 705-859-2870
School website: https://wbe-education.ca/schools/highschool/
Subjects and grades taught: Computer Science, Applied Science, Manufacturing Technology, Calculus, Physics, Math, grades 10–12
Chris Mara sets out to show his students—at-risk, marginalized, indigenous First Nations youth in a remote on-reserve community—that they can succeed in anything they do, including STEM. He is dedicated to providing opportunities for his students equal to those that other youth have.
Using hands-on, practical experiences, Chris finds interactive ways to support students in STEM learning. He also works to ensure they have a voice and can be involved in innovation and the larger conversation in STEM, all while being firmly rooted in—and being ambassadors for—their First Nations community.
In the Classroom
- Provides the resources, tools and opportunities for students to learn robotics: by participating on the school's FIRST robotics team, 5672 "First Nation STEM," students learn they can be engineers, mathematicians and scientists; they now mentor other students at a school in the region
- Keeps his sights on students' future careers: students use Office 365 to collaborate and enhance projects with video, images and graphics; encourages robotics team members to treat the team as a business, teaching them entrepreneurship skills, such as how to write a business plan
- Stresses the possibilities for girls in STEM: girls play leadership roles on the robotics team; Chris drove a group of girls across the province to attend a conference to hear inspirational speakers, do team-building activities and learn about STEM career opportunities
- Breaks down isolation: students are encouraged to use social media responsibly to help open doors; Chris takes robotics team members to workshops and seminars on coding and programming; guests such as Canada's first female astronaut visit the school
- Robotics team qualified for the quarterfinals at first competition and won the Highest Rookie Seed and Rookie Inspiration Awards; team is now Canada's longest-sustained First Nation robotics team
- Female robotics team member was part of conference panel on leadership with prominent adults; her speech about resilience and showing strength through adversity received very positive feedback
- Inspired creation of another high school FIRST Robotics team on Manitoulin Island and was instrumental in starting and supporting four FIRST Lego League teams there
- Took robotics team from extracurricular activity to Ministry of Education-approved credit course; launched year-long manufacturing technology/business course at school
"He taught me more than just school subjects. He really encourages individuality and creativity. Overall, he taught me to be more confident in myself and to never give up. He is selfless ... and willing to put the needs of the team and students before his own needs."
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