Lakehead University professor receives NSERC funding to create coding program for Indigenous youth

June 9, 2021 – Thunder Bay, Ont.

A Lakehead University Computer Science professor is receiving a $36,000 PromoScience grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada to develop and deliver a six-week coding program collaboratively with the Office of Indigenous Initiatives.

Photo of Dr. Vijay Mago

Dr. Vijay Mago, Chair and Associate Professor in Computer Science, is creating the program to serve Indigenous youth in grades 7 to 10 across Northwestern Ontario.

“In addition to the coding skills gained through the delivery of programming, our intention is to encourage youth to pursue a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and to enroll in high school courses that are prerequisites in the post-secondary fields,” Dr. Mago said.

The results of Dr. Mago’s work will introduce Indigenous youth to modern computer science skills and approaches through a consistent six-week program delivered by a skilled Computer Science graduate student as a new component of existing Niijii Mentorship programming that serves over 4,000 Indigenous students per year.

Lisa Harris, Coordinator of the Niijii Indigenous Mentorship Program at Lakehead University, will facilitate both virtual and in-person delivery of the programming. 

“The PromoScience grant in support of our Niijii Indigenous Mentorship Coding Program is an investment in Indigenous youth in Northwestern Ontario,” Harris said.

“Our goal is to increase opportunities for youth to enter into STEM-based education and eventually into STEM-based careers. The ultimate goal is for those same youth to have the option of working in a computer science/STEM career from their home communities, to build capacity and sustainability across the North,” she added. 

The Office of Indigenous Initiatives will work with the Department of Computer Science to offer computer programming to the youth of Whitesand and Gull Bay First Nations, said Denise Baxter, Vice-Provost, Indigenous Initiatives.

“The NSERC Promo-Science funding grant allows Niijii and the Department of Computer Science to enhance Ontario’s current coding curriculum while providing fundamental skills development to prepare Indigenous youth for today's fast-paced and technology-centred world,” Baxter said.

This program will inspire youth to pursue STEM-based education and careers in the fields of computer science, artificial intelligence, and machine learning.

It will also increase the potential for Indigenous youth in Northern and remote communities to access high-demand, high-paying STEM careers that can be done remotely or in person, and support the delivery of technology and resource distribution so technologies are accessible to these communities.

“We are very fortunate to be working in partnership with the Niijii Indigenous Mentorship Program and Dr. Vijay Mago at Lakehead University,” said Corey Dagenais, Principal of Armstrong Public School.

“The goal of this program is to use coding to support students in developing a deeper understanding of mathematical concepts.

“Co-teaching opportunities with Lakehead University students and classroom teachers will enhance mathematical thinking and benefit our students as they begin to solve problems and create computational representations of mathematical situations using code,” Dagenais said.

AJ Keene, Superintendent of Education at Lakehead Public Schools, said the school board appreciates its partnership with Lakehead University.

“Coding is new to the elementary mathematics curriculum and it is a subject area that has been received extremely well by students, educators, and parents alike,” Keene said.

“We anticipate that our Indigenous students will benefit greatly from participating in this project, as it combines research and practical classroom experience. The results of the research will hopefully inspire the further implementation of coding in classrooms to apply the learnings collected from this study,” Keene said.




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Lakehead University is a fully comprehensive university with approximately 9,700 full-time equivalent students and over 2,000 faculty and staff at two campuses in Orillia and Thunder Bay, Ontario. Lakehead has 10 faculties, including Business Administration, Education, Engineering, Graduate Studies, Health & Behavioural Sciences, Law, Natural Resources Management, the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, Science & Environmental Studies, and Social Sciences & Humanities. Lakehead University’s achievements have been recognized nationally and internationally, including being ranked, once again, among Canada’s Top 10 primarily undergraduate universities in Maclean’s 2021 University Rankings; as well as included in the top half of Times Higher Education's 2020 World Universities Rankings for the second consecutive year, and 99th among 1,115 universities from around the world in THE's 2021 Impact Rankings (which assesses institutions against the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals). Visit