Power to Choose Aboriginal Mentor
It was her desire to become a medical doctor that initially inspired her to pursue sciences. She had a strong urge to become a doctor in order to give back to society. In her own words, Dr. Michelle Hogue explains,
“I always wanted to pay it forward. I was really lucky. I had some really good people along the way and they were iconic for me. It was those iconic people that I wanted to be like."
Growing up in Saskatchewan as a Métis girl, Dr. Hogue faced a lot of difficulties. She credits her mentors that steered her in the right direction in order to overcome many obstacles. Her grade one teacher provided Dr. Hogue with a skill that helped her overcome challenges: reading. Learning how to read opened doors for opportunities and provided Dr. Hogue with necessary tools to escape.
Dr. Hogue’s strong love for reading and writing was the reason English was her favorite subject in school. Similarly, she had a passion for Biology and Chemistry. “That's one of the reasons I picked medicine, you could apply (both of) the sciences to the practical.”
After studying Microbiology and Biochemistry at the University of Regina, life took an unexpected turn and in the end she did not pursue a career in medicine. Dr. Hogue spent several years as a technician both in agricultural and in cancer research and also taught at the University of Lethbridge.
It was here where she began questioning the teaching system, particularly the sciences. She decided to pursue answers to some of her questions by completing a Master’s and Ph.D. both in Education. “I was always told that I would be a good teacher. I was always on this path of Education but I fought it from high school onwards.”
Since 2011, Dr. Hogue has worked as a professor of Education and a coordinator of the First Nations Transition Program at the University of Lethbridge. Leveraging from her research on science education, it has become clear to Dr. Hogue that young people learn science better when its “hand’s on first and theory after. For example, we don’t read a book on how to ride a bicycle. We just get on and ride the bicycle!” This hand’s on approach is even more significant for her First Nations students.
“There’s this whole adage that you hear, Leroy Littlebear has often said that ‘Indian’s can’t do science’. Contrary, my philosophy, "it’s just the way that it’s taught." If it’s taught differently, it’s a no-brainer actually! The First Nations paradigm is that everything is related and interrelated and the problem with the way we teach is that we make them into compartments and we don’t build those bridges and connections. That's the challenge for learning for the First Nations students. They don’t see how chemistry relates to biology or how it relates to the theatre, or to English.”
Dr. Hogue has utilized a wide variety of methods such as drama, story and relationships to encourage her students to be interested in science, particularly Chemistry. With every new concept, Dr. Hogue begins teaching it by relating it first to something the students already know.
“When I ask, 80% of my students will admit that they are afraid of Chemistry. But then I ask ‘did you eat breakfast this morning?’ Did you go to the bathroom? What did it smell like?’ Then you can talk about that being a chemical reaction; by default they are all chemists and so you can sort of take that fear away.”
In addition to her University teaching and administrative duties, Dr. Hogue plays a predominant role in the K-itsm Club, an afterschool science club for local First Nations youth. Here, she is able to put her research into practice by teaching science using non-traditional methods and connect it to culture and other aspects of life.
Although Dr. Hogue’s life did not go as planned, she still is "paying it forward in a different kind of way. I am now able to provide somebody to succeed in what it is that they want to do. I think about opening doors, in particular for my First Nations students.”