Nov. 13, 2018

Indigenous Engineer in Residence brings fresh voice and ideas to faculty

It’s about working together to heal the world.
Schulich's new Indigenous Engineer in Residence

Schulich's new Indigenous Engineer in Residence, Deanna Burgart (centre) stands with (L to R) Dr. Reg Crowshow, Dr. Qiao Sun, Dean Dr. Bill Rosehart, and university Vice-Provost (Indigenous engagement) Dr. Michael Hart.


By the time Deanna Burgart has finished her one-year appointment as the Schulich School of Engineering’s first Indigenous Engineer in Residence, she hopes to have planted a seed of understanding, respect and cooperation that leads to smarter, more sustainable engineering for all.

“Indigenous inclusion is about more than creating spaces that are culturally safe and welcoming,” Burgart explained to a circle of dignitaries and guests on hand for her official welcome to the University of Calgary.

“Indigenous inclusion is about understanding that Indigenous people have wisdom, ways of knowing and ways of being that cannot only help heal ourselves, our workplaces and our classrooms, but that can help heal our planet.”

A traditional start to a new tradition

Starting with a traditional smudging ceremony and prayer led by Piikani Elder and UCalgary’s Traditional Knowledge Keeper in residence, Reg Crowshoe, Burgart started her term with Schulich faculty. This opportunity was made possible by the Indigenous Strategy’s 2018 ii taa’poh’to’p grants program, which funded six Indigenous faculty and student initiatives this year.

Burgart, who owns her own engineering firm dedicated to environmental sustainability, will serve as an ambassador for Canada’s founding culture and a conduit to bring more Indigenous students into engineering by fostering appreciation and understanding of their values and style of learning.

“Indigenous ways of being and knowing can transform the engineering profession to a way that is more interconnected with the land, more sustainable and more harmonious with people who are stewards of the land,” Burgart told the welcoming circle. “I believe it’s time for all of society to be open to seeing things differently.”

Mentoring and collaboration celebrated

Burgart is president of Indigenous Engineering Inclusion Inc. and co-founder of IndigeSTEAM, a non-profit youth initiative that connects Indigenous professionals, post-secondary students and youth in the spirit of mentoring and collaboration.

Schulich School of Engineering Dean Dr. Bill Rosehart, PhD, co-hosted the welcome and blessing, along with Schulich’s associate dean of diversity and equity Dr. Qiao Sun, PhD, and Dr. Michael Hart, PhD, the university’s vice-provost (Indigenous engagement).

“Indigenous ways of knowing, doing, connecting and being need to be acknowledged and woven into approaches to teaching, learning and research in the field of engineering,” says Hart. “I’m thrilled that the Indigenous Strategy is able to support Deanna as the first Indigenous Engineer in Residence, and hope this is the beginning of an evolutionary journey for Schulich.”

A vital new voice in engineering

Rosehart said the new Indigenous Engineer in Residence, with over 20 years of engineering and educational experience, will help bring a vital voice to a profession that thrives through diversity.

“We believe that engineering, at its core, is a call to serve humanity, and for this creative field to thrive we need to cultivate an environment where people with a variety of backgrounds, genders, interests and talents feel welcomed and included,” he explained.

“It is especially important for us to find ways to incorporate Indigenous teachings into our engineering practice, to increase our cultural understanding and to ensure that our Indigenous communities feel welcome as part of our school community.”

Dawn of a new era

Dr. Sun was instrumental in establishing the Indigenous Engineer in Residence program, and she called Burgart’s appointment the dawn of a new era for the engineering faculty and its students.

“Through Deanna and this position, we all have an opportunity to learn and become better engineers as a result,” explains Sun.

“In addition to serving as a role model for Indigenous students and youth, SSE students, staff, faculty, and all levels of leadership will be engaged in meaningful conversations and learning opportunities through the guidance of the Indigenous Engineer in Residence.”

The University of Calgary unveiled its Indigenous Strategy, ii'taa'poh'to'p, in Nov. 2017. The strategy is the result of nearly two years of community dialogue and campus engagement, and involved the work of a number of people from the university, Indigenous communities and community stakeholders. Recommendations from the strategy will be implemented in the coming weeks, months and years as we move forward with promise, hope and caring for the future.