WISEST program gets funding boost to inspire budding researchers

Federal grant will help bring high schoolers to UAlberta for hands-on experiences with careers in engineering, science and technology.


The WISEST summer research program received a three-year, $210,000 NSERC grant. The program brings Grade 11 students to UAlberta to get a glimpse into dynamic careers in engineering, science and technology.

(Edmonton) A University of Alberta hands-on summer research program that opens up the world of science and engineering-based careers to high school students has been awarded federal funding.

The Women in Scholarship, Engineering, Science and Technology (WISEST) program is receiving a $210,000 PromoScience grant over three years. This funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) is awarded to a variety of organizations across Canada who work to interest youth in studying science and engineering.

“Young Canadians are the next generation of talented researchers and innovators whose scientific discoveries we will rely on to improve our quality of life,” said Ed Holder, minister of state for science and technology, in a press release announcing the funding June 23. “Through our government’s investments in science outreach and science summer camps, we are instilling a passion and curiosity in science, technology, engineering and math that will inspire young Canadians to pursue careers in these disciplines later on in life.”

Each summer, the U of A’s WISEST program gives high school students—both female and male—an early peek into the dynamic world of university-level study and research. Grade 11 students chosen from across Alberta and Canada are placed for six-week work experiences in labs across the U of A campus from various faculties. This year, a roster of 40 students, including three young men, will work in the faculties of agricultural, life and environmental sciences, engineering, medicine and dentistry, rehabilitation medicine and science.

More than 1,500 students have participated in the program, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary, with the purpose of encouraging more young women to take up studies and careers in science and engineering.

The PromoScience funding will help pay some administrative costs, but primarily supports a percentage of the summer stipends the WISEST students earn for their work.

“This money is most appreciated,” said Denise Hemmings, chair of WISEST. “It provides additional stability for the program.” WISEST relies on donations and its main fundraiser, an annual golf tournament, being held on July 30 this year.

WISEST provides high school students with an idea of what is possible as they get ready to consider university studies, Hemmings said.

“They get the opportunity to see the many varied fields of scientific study open to them, they learn what it’s like to work in a lab, they learn how to network with graduate students and professors, and they talk to working professionals.”

The students also prepare a research poster based on their summer’s work and pen a professional article, stored in WISEST’s Journal of Student Research.

And when their summer work is finished, they are required to share their experiences with Grade 12 classmates, “so it spreads the information out,” Hemmings noted.

The grant will also be used to support WISEST’s annual one-day Science, Engineering and Technology conference for high school girls, a fun, action-packed event that gives the students an idea of what a science-related career is like.

New this year to the WISEST program is a component on leadership and entrepreneurship. “If they want to move up as professionals, they need to develop their leadership potential and learn how to connect their academic world to business and real-life applications. It’s becoming more important to think about how their work has everyday impact.”

WISEST was one of 59 organizations across the country to share in a total of $2.9 million in funding. Other recipients included universities, interpretive science centres, urban farms, and wetland and conservation groups.