The MSS STEM team hosts a successful summer think tank

dr Deborah McGregor addresses the question: What does it mean to live ‘well’ with the earth in the face of the climate/environmental crisis?

M’CHIGEENG—Sustainability should be part of the STEM environmental program, and Manitoulin Streams joined members of the Manitoulin Secondary School (MSS) FIRST Robotics Competition Team 6865 Manitoulin Metal Robotics Team to host the first STEM and Hosting the Island’s Sustainability Conference Promoting climate action and sustainability within the goals and initiatives of other teams, as well as meeting and collaborating with other groups were the main goals of the day-long event. Attendees even traveled from London, Ontario and included some leaders from the FIRST community.

FIRST stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology“. It is an international youth organization that hosts the FIRST Robotics Competition, FIRST LEGO League Challenge, FIRST LEGO League Explore, FIRST LEGO League Discover and FIRST Tech Challenge. MSS students and FIRST Team 6865 members Jocelyn Kuntsi and Alex Wilson-Zegil organized the conference, assisted by Manitoulin Streams coordinator Seija Deschenes and MSS teacher Yana Bauer.

“Our team has been really focused this year on getting other FIRST teams involved in environmental STEM,” said Alex, a 10th grade student with an interest in earth and space science. “We did this with our carbon calculator and thought it would be a great opportunity to engage other FIRST teams over the summer and try to change their perspective or give them more insight into environmental STEM and what it means. It’s important that the technologies of the future are sustainable, so outreach and conferences like this one are important to get the message across, she added.

Jocelyn is in 12th grade and this will be her fourth year on the robotics team. At the moment she is interested in physics, astronomy and quantum mechanics, but she is also very interested in environmental issues. “Our team has explored environmental STEM over the years and worked to bring it to the FIRST community,” she said. “I think we really got into the role of bringing in environmental STEM, which is really important to our team. We wanted to start a broader initiative and try to involve as many teams as possible and work off-island. That’s what we thought about this conference. It is also a good starting point to start the discussion within the FIRST community.”

“The weather affected our agenda; However, we had a flexible group that was really committed,” said Ms. Bauer.

After a sunrise ceremony earlier in the day, led by Elder Jean Debassige, MSS students demonstrated how to use the carbon calculator developed by the robotics club to offset their carbon footprint while building robots and participating in robotics competitions. dr Deborah McGregor presented the integration of Anishinaabe Environmental Stewardship into STEM and environmental science. dr McGregor of Birch Island is a Professor at York University/Osgoode Hall and holds the Canada Research Chair on Indigenous Environmental Justice.

“DR. McGregor’s presentation definitely sparked conversation,” said Ms. Bauer.

Much of Dr. McGregor’s research on environmental justice focuses on these grand challenges by engaging with different types of knowledge. Since STEM is heavily biased toward specific types of knowledge generation, how does Aboriginal and other people’s knowledge work in STEM, asked Dr. McGregor. In the research world of indigenous studies, there is a lot of emphasis on stories, she said. “They have a lot of knowledge. What do these stories tell us about what is happening and how to deal with the future?”

A lot has to do with responsibility and correct behavior towards other people, nature, ancestors and future generations. “What are our ethical obligations and responsibilities to nature and future generations? I hate to say that many future generations are inheriting many problems right now and I think we need to change our thinking so that they start inheriting solutions.”

“One of the things about Dr. McGregor’s presentation that really stuck with me was that instead of waking up and thinking about what to take away from the day, think about what to give for the day,” Jocelyn said. “I really want to incorporate that into my life because I think giving back to the community is an important lesson, especially when you think from an ecological perspective. Also, I think it further proved to me that the more people get involved in environmental movements and work towards sustainability, the more efficient it will be and the better the future will look. It just inspires me to keep going and keep going with our team and the members of the robotics community.”

Eventually, attendees braved the elements and planted 64 trees to offset the conference’s carbon footprint. “It was a great way to connect with the place and learn from the land,” said Ms. Bauer.

“It was definitely the messiest part, but I really enjoyed planting trees,” Jocelyn said. She is a fan of taking action to create change. “Even though it was pouring rain, it was just nice to see the end result of all the trees that were planted. It was really quick. We planted about 60 trees in half an hour, which is pretty crazy when you think about it.”

Back inside, an “amazing” lunch of Anishinaabe tacos provided by Karen McGraw was followed by a presentation from Manitoulin Streams staff on how their organization is using natural infrastructure for river restoration. Manitoulin Streams’ Liam Campbell led a discussion on adaptation and water caretaker Maylen Moffatt spoke about the significant challenges facing water and how closely all of these issues are interconnected.

Discussions continued with design challenges related to robotics and their use for stewardship activities. Alex said her favorite part of the day was discussing what everyone learned during the day and sharing opinions and perspectives on it. “Maybe we can improve things by different perspectives,” she said. “I’ve gained some valuable insights that keeping STEM sustainable requires teamwork. People are often taught to do things themselves, but it’s going to take everyone to try and make that happen, and it’s also important to keep different stories in mind as we work on it.” She thought it was important, Anishinaabe -Hearing speakers and their stories and thinking about how they can be applied to environmental STEM, which is both important and interesting. “I took a lot from that,” added Alex.

“Everyone took away an important lesson about giving rather than always taking, how to ask the right questions and do everything possible to ensure that the answers come from different voices when we talk about sustainability and climate protection,” concluded Ms. Bauer. “We also had a lively discussion on how to bring more accountability to both our personal lives and our organizations.”

Given the success of this first STEM and environmental sustainability conference, organizers are considering holding another event during the school year to reach even more FIRST teams.


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