Indigenous culture and passion for science connect through co-op work term

Microbiology co-op student Levana Mastrangelo is doing her part to make a difference in local Indigenous communities. She recently completed a co-operative education (co-op) work term with the Aboriginal STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Outreach Program, where she became a liaison between UVic’s Science Venture and Indigenous youth on Vancouver Island.

The Aboriginal STEM Outreach program is a reciprocal partnership between Indigenous communities and the University of Victoria’s Office of Indigenous Affairs, Science Venture and the faculties of science and engineering. Its goal: to break down the barriers to scientific education by providing engaging, community-based programs to Indigenous youth.

During her co-op work term, Mastrangelo acted both as an Aboriginal STEM Outreach Instructor and as the Regional Aboriginal STEM Project Lead. Her position was made possible by the President’s Excellence Fund, a fund that co-sponsors Indigenous students at UVic who complete a co-op work term or internship with Indigenous businesses, communities and community groups in Canada.

“As an Indigenous STEM project lead, I connected with and interviewed the Indigenous communities and organizations that Science Venture has built a relationship with, developing a model of best practices for Aboriginal STEM programs,” says Mastrangelo. When she attended Actua’s National Conference in Ottawa last month, she delivered this model back to network holders, ensuring her work will continue to build and strengthen relationships for Aboriginal STEM programs across Canada.

For Mastrangelo, who is a member of the Ucluelet First Nations, working with the outreach program has been an invaluable way to not only gain work experience but also to reach out as a mentor to Indigenous youth in her community. 

“This role is extremely important—our goal at Science Venture is to help all youth feel comfortable with learning and experiencing STEM topics and activities,” she says. “Our program builds confidence, expands our children’s perspectives and allows them to connect and learn STEM through hands-on experience with amazing mentors.”

Although just beginning her co-op journey at UVic, Mastrangelo has already left a lasting impact on the community through her work term. Moving forward, she’s eager to explore the fields of biomedical research, traditional medicine and ethnobotany and expand her co-op experience to contribute to current research in those fields.

Confident in her decision to join the co-op program, Mastrangelo knows that far more opportunities wait in the future. “Co-op is one of the best options for students looking expand their perspective and gain experience within their field of study,” she says. “If you break out of your comfort zone, co-op will open more doors and opportunities than you ever could expect.”

Read the story on The Ring.