Hazelton student learns by doing in UBC science labs

Mayenda Jones, 16, from Hazelton one of 30 students in Western Canada to join UBC program.

Mayenda Jones (right) with Verna J Kirkness. Contributed photo

By Gerry Brach

From May 13 to 18, UBC in partnership with the Verna J. Kirkness Science and Engineering Program hosted 31 Indigenous high school students for a unique experience on the West Point Gray campus.

During this week of immersion in campus life, students spent quality time in science and engineering labs doing hands-on research projects. In addition to being mentored by professors and grad students, these Grade 11 and 12 students lived in residence, met Indigenous role models and learned about supports that are available to Indigenous UBC students.

As a scholarship recipient of the Verna J. Kirkness Science and Engineering Program, 16-year-old Mayenda Jones from Hazelton joined 30 other students from across B.C., Alberta and Manitoba to participate in this informative and inspiring educational opportunity.

While at UBC, Mayenda participated in a research project hosted by the Faculty of Forestry. Part of her lab time was spent analyzing the stomata of different cottonwood tree leaves, to compare the difference between trees that grow in the northern and southern parts of the province.

“Trees in the North have more stomata per unit area of leaf so they grow faster, but they don’t grow as tall due to having less daylight,” Mayenda explained.

After spending time in a Forestry lab, Mayenda discovered that she looks at trees differently now that she has learned more about them.

Faride Unda, a post-doctoral fellow who works in the Tree Molecular Biology Lab, was one of Mayenda’s mentors. She got involved with the Verna J. Kirkness Science and Engineering Program because she likes to encourage students to explore science. Dr. Unda is particularly interested in promoting women in STEM.

“I had the pleasure of working with Mayenda. I think she is really taking it all in, as I can see that she is very organized, is always taking notes and paying attention. I just hope that Mayenda and the rest of the students feel inspired by all their experience and I am very happy to be a little part of it,” she said.

Another highlight of Mayenda’s experience at UBC was seeing the magnificent Wolf and Wolf Pup Housepost at the First Nations Longhouse. It was carved by her uncle Chief Walter Harris, a Gitxsan artist from Kispiox, and his son Rodney.

“My father told me about the carving a few years ago, so I was very excited when I got to see it in person,” explained Mayenda.

Former B.C. Supreme Court Justice and Commissioner of the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry Tom Berger is a sponsor of the Kirkness Program. He attended the honor dinner at UBC celebrating the students’ participation in the program.

“I found the evening to be a remarkable demonstration of how, with the kind of mentorship and backing the Kirkness Program provides, Indigenous high school students can experience the excitement that may await them in a career in Science,” said Berger.

The Verna J. Kirkness Science and Engineering Program encourages Indigenous high school students to pursue post-secondary study and to make a positive difference in their home community.

Mayenda’s post-secondary plans include a possible career in sports medicine, and after her week on the beautiful West Point Gray campus, she may well pursue this dream at UBC.

— Gerry Brach, MEd (UBC ’90) is a director with the Verna J. Kirkness Science and Engineering Program.


Mayenda Jones standing beside the house post that her uncle carved in the UBC Longhouse. (Contributed photo)

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