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Changing the face of STEM

Grenfell Campus physicist named Atlantic co-chair for inclusion in science and engineering

By Pamela Gill

Dr. Svetlana Barkanova is committed to connecting with underrepresented groups and engaging them in the world of science.

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) announced recently that Dr. Barkanova, a physicist at Grenfell Campus, is one of three Atlantic chairs who will reach out to underrepresented groups and individuals, encouraging them to discover the myriad of opportunities available in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

The team will receive $305,000 per year for two years, which includes funding to support post-doctoral researchers to help the chairholders maintain their research activities during their tenure.

Known as Atlantic chairs for inclusion in science and engineering, the NSERC initiative also includes co-chairs Dr. Stephanie MacQuarrie of Cape Breton University and Dr. Kevin Hewitt of Dalhousie University.

Atlantic chairs for inclusion in science and engineering aim to reach a broad range of underrepresented groups, including women and gender minorities, Indigenous Peoples, persons with disabilities, racialized groups and members of LGBTQ communities, with a particular focus on First Nations and French communities, African Nova Scotians and remote and rural areas.

Host universities and the chairs’ external partners will provide additional funding.

In addition, Memorial’s Faculty of Science is contributing $20,000 to support St. John’s campus-based programming to increase recruitment and retention of Indigenous Peoples, racialized groups, members of the LGTBQ community, persons with disabilities and women into STEM programs.

EDI lens to subatomic physics theory

Dr. Barkanova is an internationally acknowledged researcher in subatomic physics theory.

She brings a lens of equity, diversity and inclusion to her leadership roles at the regional, national and international level, striving to improve the climate for underrepresented groups in both research and education.

Dr. Svetlana Barkanova, a white woman in her early 40s, stands in front of a large telescope in an observatory.
Dr. Svetlana Barkanova at the Grenfell Campus Observatory.
Photo: Lori Lee Pike

Developed in collaboration with the Qalipu First Nation, Dr. Barkanova’s science outreach program for girls, Indigenous youth and students in rural and remote areas is engaging hundreds of students every year.

“It is an honour to continue my outreach work through the Atlantic chairs for inclusion in science and engineering initiative, partnering with Dr. MacQuarrie and Dr. Hewitt,” she said. “As a team, we will focus on recruitment to and retention in STEM fields by offering a variety of programs that build upon successful local initiatives, extending them regionally and nationally.”

Six initiatives will be scaled up to become regional flagship programs, offering continuity with the Chairs for Women in Science and Engineering Program, as well as successful programs currently being offered, such as Dr. Barkanova’s Physics in the Rural Classroom.

Regional initiatives to be introduced include the Atlantic Chairs for Inclusion in Science and Engineering Scholar Employment Program, which addresses the critical Grade 9/10 year when students are making the decision whether or not to enter STEM; Indigenous science led by Unama’ki College in Cape Breton; a national/regional speaker role model roster and fund to subsidize the travel and accommodation of speakers to Atlantic institutions; and a regional connection on the occasion of the total Solar eclipse on April 8, 2024.

“We will collect resources and data to develop and effect policy and systemic change within our communities, ranging from elementary school impacts to tenure track processes,” Dr. Barkanova said.

‘Fill gaps in understanding and representation’

Some of policy and systemic change initiatives the chairs will address include STEM education policy with governmental education departments; outreach in tenure and promotion processes with science and engineering deans; a science fair structure and inclusivity policy examination with Youth Science Canada; and a promising practice database development with graduate students.

“We’ve developed a strategic plan that launches new programming and builds upon successful and impactful programming that requires more resources,” she said.

For example, the Catalyze and Facilitate Program is building upon the former Atlantic Chairs for Women in Science and Engineering Partnership Funding program and will help to build upon already established programming or launch new programs.

“Our programming covers K-12 and into professions and communities,” said Dr. Barkanova. “Each of our strategies is connected to several objectives and concrete initiatives that will reach a broad range of underrepresented groups. Our partners include sponsors that will enable an Atlantic Canadian impact and advisors that help us fill gaps in understanding and representation.”

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