Six Nations students get curious about aerospace

Posted on June 15, 2020


Picture 6 nations students in a classroom

There’s nothing like a rocket launch to get kids interested in space. In fact, it was a real shuttle launch that first got Joseph Connolly, a Six Nations member and aerospace engineer with NASA, interested in becoming an engineer. Dr. Connolly recently joined Melanie Howard, the Director of Queen’s Aboriginal Access to Engineering (AAE) to talk with students at Six Nations about careers in engineering – and to have a bit of fun with rockets.

Dr. Connolly and Ms. Howard first met several years ago through their mutual involvement with AISES – the American Indian Science and Engineering Society. Howard currently co-chairs the Canadian Indigenous Advisory Council to AISES, while Connolly chairs the Professional Chapters’ Advisory Council to AISES. Their common cultural background as Haudenosaunee kept them in touch over the years, and the work Queen’s AAE is doing in Haudenosaunee communities has always interested Dr. Connolly.

“Educational outreach is a passion of mine,” says Connolly. “The thing that was really important for me was seeing other people doing what I wanted to do, which made it more real. I always thought that if I was successful, I wanted to be sure that I can make it a little bit easier for the next person to pursue their dreams.”

The pair visited five elementary schools in Six Nations during late February, to talk about aerospace engineering, rocket technology, and engineering roles. As an added bonus, they brought along a model rocket to launch in the school yard, much to the delight of the students.

Connolly told students about growing up in nearby Niagara Falls, New York, and how he dreamed of working at NASA after seeing a space shuttle launch on TV. He reminded them that having a community of support is important, and encouraged them to ask for help to get where they want to go. “I give out a lot of business cards and when I’m talking to kids, I always tell them, just shoot me a message,” he says. “I think that that a lot of us are there to help.”

AAE has partnered with Six Nations for the past two years to embed science and math curriculum enrichment directly into schools. The partnership includes ongoing in-classroom support, as well as teacher training. A full-time Queen’s staff member, Nicole General, is based in Six Nations this year to deliver programming.

Special events like the visit from Dr. Connolly are just part of the larger picture in AAE’s vision of increasing STEM outcomes for Indigenous youth. “It’s so important to get role models like Joe in front of the kids, so they can really see what they can become,” says Howard. “This is someone who’s already walked the path and can tell you what the journey looks like.”