Indigenous girls from as far away as the Northwest Territories came to the University of Waterloo recently to learn more about science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) at the fourth annual IMPACT summer camp.

“We have a few participants that have returned every year for the past three years,” said Emma Smith, camp co-ordinator and student in Waterloo’s Department of Fine Arts. “It’s not just a one-off thing.  It helps these girls see themselves, their culture and people like them on post-secondary campuses—it shows them that they have a place here.”

Federal Government House Leader Bardish Chagger, the MP for Waterloo, attended the opening ceremonies on August 10, along with Karim Karim, Associate dean of outreach in the Faculty of Engineering. Kelly Davis, a local Haudenosaunee member of the Six Nations of the Grand River territory, led the day with traditional teachings, songs, dances, and a smudging ceremony.

“If you’re not a singer, then you’re a dancer” said Davis. “Everyone gets to be a part of the ceremony, everyone gets to be included.”

This year’s theme was “IMPACT wearable,” which had the girls programming circuit boards into Indigenous beading. They brought their projects to life with LED lights interwoven in the fabric.

Other activities included talks on programmable robots and the chemistry of ice cream. Campers visited  SAIL, an art innovation lab on campus and viewed a meteor shower at the observatory on campus. Participants, and their caregivers, were also offered tours of the Google office in downtown Kitchener, THEMUSEUM, and the Perimeter Institute of Theoretical Physics in Waterloo.

The girls attended the camp with a parent or other caregiver from their community. “I think this camp is important because it not only encourages young Indigenous girls into STEM, but it also teaches caregivers ways to promote the field of STEM to any child beyond their own,” said Smith.

IMPACT is made possible through a partnership between the Waterloo Indigenous Students Centre, Engineering Science Quest, the Equity Office, and De Beers Canada. The camp is one of many initiatives that the University of Waterloo has created in order to achieve its HeForShe IMPACT 10x10x10 goals.