A joint initiative to increase academic diversity has expanded from six universities in Ontario to 12 institutions across the country.

Since its inception earlier this year, the Indigenous and Black Engineering and Technology (IBET) PhD project, which aims to support and build a network for Indigenous and Black graduate students, has named 16 doctoral fellows and 24 mentors.

The original partnership included the engineering and math faculties at the University of Waterloo, and the engineering faculties at McMaster University, the University of Ottawa, the University of Toronto, Queen’s University and Western University. Joining the project are the University of Alberta, the Schulich School of Engineering at the University of Calgary, McGill University, Ryerson University, the University of Windsor, and the Lassonde School of Engineering at York University.

IBET Momentum Fellowship recipients receive $30,000 per annum for four years as they pursue doctoral degrees and specialized engineering, design, and technology research. Along with funding, the IBET PhD Project provides a network of peer support with industry and academia mentors who have gone through the rigorous doctoral process.

James LeMoine, an IBET PhD student at McMaster University, is Anishinaabe from the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation and part of the Migizi (Eagle) Clan. He completed his undergraduate and master’s degrees at McMaster and is currently researching electro-hydrodynamics, a method of improving heat transfer, with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprint.

“Going through my studies, I felt like the lone one out,” said LeMoine. “Of my Indigenous friends, few went into academia and those who did, did not choose STEM paths. It really felt isolating, so seeing an award that aims to encourage more Indigenous people to follow the path really means a lot.”

IBET PhD student D’Andre Wilson-Ihejirika was born in Nassau, Bahamas and moved to Canada in 2006 to pursue an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering at McGill University. She completed a master’s at the Centre for Management of Technology and Entrepreneurship at the University of Toronto.

“During both my undergraduate and master’s degree programs, I did not have a single professor who looked like me, and I have only met a handful of engineering professors anywhere who identify as Indigenous or Black,” said Wilson-Ihejirika. “I have never met a Black woman who is a professor of engineering in Canada.”

Wilson-Ihejirika worked in the oil and gas industry before pivoting to professional education as the director of programming and employment partnerships at Elevate, an organization dedicated to uniting innovators. After focusing there on connecting members of underrepresented groups to careers in technology and innovation through micro-courses, she is now pursuing a PhD in engineering education at the University of Toronto.

“The IBET PhD Project is important because young Indigenous and Black high school students need to see themselves reflected in their teachers,” said Tizazu Mekonnen, the IBET PhD Project director Tizazu Mekonnen, the IBET PhD Project director and a Waterloo chemical engineering professor.  “Greater diversity in our academic leaders will encourage more students to pursue careers in STEM and ensure that the engineering and computer science fields better represent Canadian society.”

IBET Momentum Fellowships are a central part of the new IBET PhD Project, which aims to change the academic landscape within the next five to 10 years by increasing the number of Indigenous and Black engineering professors teaching and doing research in universities across Canada.

The project will also create a pipeline of graduates who will increase diversity in Canadian technology industries as they enter the workforce with degrees from science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs.

Interested Canadian students can apply directly to partner universities as part of the overall application process for doctoral programs. Interested potential mentors can apply directly through the IBET PhD Project website.

Read more stories of the IBET Momentum Fellowships.

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