The Verna J. Kirkness Education Foundation logo

Verna J. Kirkness Education Foundation Program 

Picture of a VJKF Mentor in a lab with two Kirkness Scholars. Everyone is wearing a lab coat and one of the students is looking into a microscope.

The VJKF Program offers Indigenous (First Nation, Métis, and Inuit) high school students an opportunity to spend one week conducting research in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math during the month of May. As one of our Kirkness scholars, you’ll work with university professors and graduate students from one of our partner universities researching a specific topic of interests. All our students are given an opportunity to let us know which areas of STEM research that most interests them.  

Program Details

  • All expenses are paid if a student is accepted into the VJKF Program.
  • As part of our application process students will select which research areas they are most interested in. We will send accepted students a list of research opportunities that will note which university is sponsoring the program, and what week that specific program will run. Students will be able to select their top 5 choices that interest them most. We will do our best to match students with their #1 choice, but can't guarantee that will be possible in all cases.

May 2023 In-Person Program Dates:

WEEK ONE: April 30th – May 5th

WEEK TWO: May 7th – May 12th

WEEK THREE: May 14th – May 19th

  • Sample Program week is noted below.
  • Accepted students will be emailed a copy of research opportunities and the dates for those specific programs when available. Do not wait to apply as we are accepting applications on a first-come basis. We strongly recommend applying early, as this year's program is capped at 100 students, and we will likely have a waiting list.
  • On the final afternoon of the Program, your group will make a presentation about your learnings from the lab for the week. Don’t worry there’s lots of group time to build a successful presentation. 
  • All students participate in our certification celebration on Thursday night.

Application Requirements

  • Applicant self-Identifies as a First Nations, Métis, or Inuit student currently in grade 10, 11 or 12
  • Completed application (online or mailed in)
  • Signed parental consent form
  • Reference letter from teacher or guidance counsellor 
  • Essay by the student indicating why they are interested in attending the VJFK Program (100–400 words)
  • Confirmed availability for at least one of the program weeks in May 2023 (see above)
  • Student must agree to provide a short update regarding ongoing education activities when requested by VJKF staff

Program Benefits

Photo of a microscope to represent 'Conduct Research'.


You’ll have the opportunity to learn about one of your top three selected research areas.

Photo of building to represent 'Campus Life'.


Get a taste of university life. Work with professors and attend campus tours.

Photo of gift to represent 'Receive Swag'.


This year’s program includes, swag bags, prizes, games, and team activities.

Photo of certificate to represent 'Receive Certificate'.


Every student who completes our program receives a certificate of completion.

Photo of a book growing from a plant to represent 'Expand your Knowledge'.


You’ll have an opportunity to learn about science research happening at universities.

Photo of two hands with a plant growing between to represent 'Indigenous Services on Campus'.


See what service and supports are in place for students on campus.

Photo of a thumbs up to represent 'Build your Resume'.


Attending the VJKF program is a noteworthy accomplishment to put on your resume.

Photo of a beaker to represent 'Hands on Science'.


Students will get to conduct research in a university lab under the supervision of their mentors.

Photo of three raised hands to represent 'Have your Questions Answered'.


You’ll have an opportunity to ask questions about university and campus life.

Photo of three individuals to represent 'Meet Friends'.


Meet VJKF Ambassadors and talk with other students from across Canada.

Photo of an individual standing at a podium to represent 'Hear Guest Speakers'.


We have a line-up of amazing guest speakers for this year’s event.

Photo of a graduation cap and certificate to represent 'Scholarship Opportunities'.


Students who complete the VJKF Program are eligible to apply for a VJFK Scholarship to attend a post secondary institution.


We are currently organizing the various STEM research opportunities with our Partner Universities to be delivered in May 2023. While we will update our website when we have more information, below is a sample agenda from one of the programs we ran in previous years.

Campus Program Sample

(Example UBC in-person program)

*2023 VJKF Program schedule will be sent to students in early 2023. The below is only a sample of one of our past programs.

Sunday, May 13

3:30–4:30 Arrival Place Vanier Residences

6:00–9:00 Dinner in Place Vanier Residence Cafeteria

Introduction to the Kirkness Program

10:00 Curfew

Monday, May 14

8:00–8:45 Meet chaperones in residence common room and go to breakfast

Pick up bagged lunches

9:00–11:00 Sty-Wet-Tan Hall - Elder Larry Grant and Host Linc Kessler

11:00–4:30 Mentors or representatives from the labs will meet students in Place Vanier   Residence Cafeteria

Lab time

4:30 Return to Place Vanier Residence

5:30 Dinner Place Vanier Residence Cafeteria

6:30–9:00 Introduction to Kirkness Program, plus Social Media & Blogging

Tuesday, May 15

8:00 Meet chaperones in Place Vanier Residence common room and go to breakfast

9:00 Students meet their mentors at Place Vanier Residence Cafeteria 

Lab time

12:00 Lunch with lab groups

4:15 Return to Place Vanier Residence

4:30 Dinner in Place Vanier Residence Cafeteria with chaperones

7:00–9:00 Kirkness Program T-Shirt Design

Wednesday, May 16

8:00 Meet chaperones in Place Vanier Residence common room and go to breakfast

9:00 Students meet their mentors at Place Vanier Residence Cafeteria 

Lab time

12:00 Lunch with lab groups

4:30–5:00 Return to Place Vanier Residence

5:30 Dinner with chaperones in Place Vanier Residence Cafeteria

6:00–9:00 Homework night in Sty-Wet-Tan

Thursday, May 17

8:00 Meet chaperones in Place Vanier Residence common room and go to breakfast

9:00 Students meet their mentors at Place Vanier Residence Cafeteria 

Lab time

12:00 Lunch with lab groups

4:20 Return to Place Vanier Residence

6:00–9:00 Traditional Feast–Sty-Wet-Tan

Friday, May 18

8:00 Meet chaperones in Place Vanier Residence common room and go to breakfast

9:00 Students meet their mentors at Place Vanier Residence Cafeteria 

Prep time for presentations

12:00 Lunch with lab groups

1:00–4:30 Student presentations in Lecture Hall

5:00 Departures–some students may stay over to Saturday for travel


The below program summaries are for weeks we offered to our participants in our 2022 program. Research opportunities change every year, so stay tuned for the program weeks that will be offered to students for this year's 2023 program. 

Photo of a calculator and pen on a yellow background.

Visualizing Math through Computers

The University of Victoria, Teseo Schenider

In this course, you will learn how simple mathematical rules can generate life, how to use a turtle to create snowflakes, and how noise produces beautiful continents.

The course aims at teaching the basics of python, some math, and powerful visualization techniques. We will start by learning about the building blocks of a programming language (e.g., variables, loops, conditionals, functions, etc.). In parallel, we will study the “game of life”: a simple model that simulates cells’ evolution. We will combine these two concepts with a visualization to simulate the growth of colonies of cells.

Then we will learn about recursion, how a function can use itself to repeat the same thing (forever), and fractals, simple mathematical patterns that repeat themself (e.g., broccoli or snowflake). We will use Turtle, a python drawing package, to generate and explore the fractals. Finally, we will learn about a particular random noise called Perlin and how computers represent colors. Combining this noise with color, we will generate random continents.

Photo of tree in the shape of a heart that showcases the rings of the tree. There is green moss in the background.

Tree Stories –Rings and Fire Scars

The University of British Columbia, Lori Daniels and Vanessa Comeau

Have you ever counted the rings of a tree? We all know that tree-rings can tell us how old a tree is, but did you know that they can tell us much more than that? Tree-rings can teach us about past climate, insect outbreaks and even forest fires! The UBC Tree-Ring Lab in the Faculty of Forestry uses dendrochronology, or tree-ring science, to answer a wide variety of research questions. Our Verna J. Kirkness Education Foundation 2022 Project will explore the history of wildfire in British Columbia’s dry interior forests using tree-rings. Students will learn to count, measure and date tree rings, identify fire scars within the tree-ring record and reconstruct the past fire history of the forest. Like detectives, we use multiple lines of evidence to look back through the past and answer questions about forest fire history over hundreds of years.

Photo of a Métis sash.

Science and Movement behind Red River Jigging

The University of Saskatchewan, Alison Oates

Students joining the College of Kinesiology at the University of Saskatchewan will learn about human movement including how movement and physical activity can support physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellness. Some examples include (but are not limited to) learning about measuring movement with biomechanics; the influence of Red River jigging on our health; learning mental skills to navigate setbacks in physical activity, the importance of movement for our growth and development; and how to reach the physical activity guidelines to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Students will have the opportunity to work with researchers, instructors, and experts in their fields to share the world of Kinesiology.

Photo of a Buffalo looking towards the camera. The Buffalo is standing in the prairies.

Science and the Buffalo

First Nations University of Canada, Jody Bellegarde, Richard Dosselmann, Edward Doolittle, Fidji Gendron, Arzu Sardarli, Vincent Ziffle

The Science faculty at First Nations University of Canada are conducting research on the prairie ecosystem in Saskatchewan and elsewhere, and in the role of Indigenous knowledge in science.  Specific projects include the population dynamics of the flora and fauna of the region, such as issues related to the carrying capacity of buffalo populations; the study of water quality issues in the ecosystem; studying the use of the renewable resources provided by the prairie ecosystem in the modern world, including foods, medicines, and biodiesel; and the statistics and data science related to prairie ecosystems.

The First Nations University Kirkness Foundation project will be led by Dr. Edward Doolittle and supported by the science faculty at First Nations University which consists of Mr. Jody Bellegarde (Cree; lab technician and lab instructor), Dr. Richard Dosselmann (computer science), Dr. Edward Doolittle (Mohawk; mathematics), Dr. Fidji Gendron (biology), Dr. Arzu Sardarli (mathematics and physics), Dr. Vincent Ziffle (chemistry), and one graduate student.  The department is supported by state-of-the-art lab facilities in the Regina campus of First Nations University.

Photo of a hand with a digitalized brain to show 'AI and the Future of Software Systems'.

Exploring Physics and Astronomy; AI and The Future of Software Systems

The University of Victoria, Neil Ernst, Karun Thanjavur and Michael Roney

Is your curiosity sparked by questions about the smallest building-blocks in Nature and the forces connecting them? Or perhaps with the largest structures in the universe? Or Both? Walk with these researchers on their path to discovering completely new things about the universe. This is an awesome chance to get some hands-on experience: a fun experiment on Buoyancy that you conduct at home with guidance from Alex; and Karun will help you measure how fast the sun spins on its axis! You’ll be taken on a remote tour with Michael and his students, Caleb Miller and Alex Beaubien, of a subatomic particle physics detector complex at the high energy particle collider in Japan. You’ll also tour the Canada France Hawaii observatory with Karun. On this path, you will hear from Rolf about the discovery of the Higgs Boson at the Large Hadron Collider in Europe and why it was so exciting. You’ll also explore properties of photons, electrons, quarks, neutrinos and Nature’s other quantum particles as well as Nature’s Big Structures: Black Holes and Galaxy Clusters. 

Your UVic week will also have you learn about Artificial Intelligence (AI) with Neil:

Neil’s research group works on problems in software design and requirements. Some example problems are how to help people build large software systems, supporting researchers in non-software fields in data science and building software, such as astronomy, geography, and oceanography. An ongoing research challenge is understanding how machine learning and AI will influence the design of future software systems and tools.

Photo of a water sample being collected from a river. The person collecting the sample is wearing a blue rubber glove and carrying the clear vial.

Climate Change and Saving the World

The University of British Columbia, Rachel White, Anais Orsi, Zac Hudson, Dianne Mitchinson, Bethany Ladd, Gregory Dipple

We will cover a variety of topics throughout the week, which would include the following: 

Climate change and climate impacts: extreme weather events heatwaves, coastal flooding, extreme rainfall, melting snow and ice … climate change impacts our lives in many ways. My group here at UBC researches the impacts of climate change on extreme weather and climate events — why, how, and by how much, will these extreme events change in strength or frequency because of human-caused climate change?

In this mini workshop we will explore some of the many impacts of climate change, and understand how scientists are able to predict how extreme weather and climate events may change in the future. Based on locations (within Canada) chosen by you, we will research how aspects of weather that impact your communities are expected to change, including: maximum temperatures, minimum temperatures, heavy rainfall, sea level rise, droughts and frost days. We will talk about climate models, how they are used, what they can be used for and how I use them in my research. By analysing the output of climate models, you will create a summary of how climate extremes are projected to change for your chosen location, and explore how differences in future greenhouse gas emissions will affect the climate change impacts.

Students are asked to come prepared to the workshop with a story about a particular weather/climate event that has influenced their hometown/community, or a type of weather/climate event that they or their community is concerned about. Ideas include: heatwaves, flooding events, droughts, snow/ice melt events, heavy rainfall, changes in growing season of plants/crops….

Mineral Exploration and Mining to Fight Climate Change 

This session will focus on the role of geoscientists in the search for the metals needed to build batteries and green energy infrastructure to help the world lower their carbon emissions. It might sound strange that mining can help reduce greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere, but it’s true and we will explain how and why! Geology, the study of rocks and minerals, helps us to look for the best places to find important metals like gold, copper, and nickel. But that’s only the first step! We must then embark on mining these metals responsibly. Two themes will be focused on: 1) how we use knowledge of earth processes to find metals that are important for the switch to green energy such as solar panels and electric car batteries, and 2) using knowledge of minerals to develop mines that can remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and safely store it in rocks to help the fight against climate change. 

Dr. Dianne Mitchinson, Bethany Ladd and Katrin Steinthorsdottir are all geologists that work in the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of British Columbia and will be presenting and leading discussions and activities that include, Metals in Everyday Life, What Does Mineral Exploration and CO2 Research in the Field and Lab Look Like, and Find the Pirate’s Treasure!

Rain and climate change, with Anaïs Orsi (UBC Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences)

Climate change is not just global warming, it’s also becoming wetter, and drier. Unlike temperature, which is increasing nearly everywhere, precipitation changes can go both ways. Why is that? In this course, we will start with your own story about changing rain and/or snow. It can be from traditional knowledge shared by your elders, something you heard in the news or from your own experience. We will use these stories to develop how science can inform our lives.  On the first day, we will use your stories to define a question, investigate what we can measure to document the process, explore how we could carry out these measurements. You will get to build your own rain gauge. On the second day, we will hunt for some data on the internet, and learn the basic tools that scientists use to analyze data: calculate the mean (what we consider normal), and define what is considered an extreme event, using a computer. Finally, we will investigate together how climate change will impact the variable we defined based on your story. 

Can Chemistry Change The World? (Zac Hudson)

Chemistry will be critical to confronting some of the greatest sustainability challenges in human history. Developing new technologies for clean energy generation, biodegradable plastics, wastewater treatment, and food security will all rely on an understanding of chemistry. This half-day session includes a series of experiments you can do at home, guided live on video by Ph.D. students at UBC. We’ll illustrate the principles of chemical separation, acids and bases, and show you how to make plastic at home. We’ll conclude with a lecture that shows how chemistry is at the forefront of the fight against climate change, plastic pollution, and clean air and water.

Photo of the Northern Lights glowing purple and green with spruce trees in the bottom of the photo.

Astronomy – my place in the universe

The University of British Columbia, Douglas Scott, Ingrid Stairs, Jess McIver and Jeremy Heye

We will discuss the properties of ordinary stars, like our sun, and extremely compact versions, such as white dwarfs, neutron stars and black holes. We’ll also look at galaxies of stars and how they define structure on the largest scales in the Universe. How do we use familiar ideas to understand such objects? In what ways are they completely different from things we’re used to in our everyday lives?

Photo of a dog wearing a party hat and noise maker.

A week in the life of a veterinary professional

University of Saskatchewan, Jordan Woodsworth

The Western College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan trains veterinary professionals from all over Western Canada, and we look forward to learning along with you this May. Students will be hosted by a variety of our staff and faculty who will provide learning opportunities including but not limited to: preventive healthcare for pets; animal wound care; dental care and procedures; veterinary radiology; veterinary rehabilitation; parasitology; wildlife pathology; communications; and what it’s like to train and work as a veterinary technologist. Join us for an exciting week of learning what it’s like to work as an animal health professional, and see firsthand the wide range of career paths available in this area.

Photo of s hand holding a lump of gluten from flour. The hand is hovering over a bowl with water where the gluten was extracted from.

What’s in my food?

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Sijo Joseph and Team

Explore food science by spending a week with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s grain science and nutrition lab, located at the Richardson Centre for Food Technology and Research on the University of Manitoba campus. Meet the research scientists and technicians who conduct research projects to improve the quality and nutrition of Canadian-grown crops and the foods made from them. Have you ever wondered things like: What kind of machine makes rolled oats? How do they measure all those components on a food label? If someone built a machine to simulate the human digestive system what would it look like? Why is fibre so healthy for you? Is there a way to quantify colour? What is gluten anyway? Discover answers to these questions and more through science discussions, lab equipment demonstrations, virtual lab tour and participation in hands-on food science experiments that can be done together virtually with items from your kitchen. By the end of the week you will know more about what components your food is made up of, how they are measured in the lab, and how they impact things like texture, digestibility and nutrition. 

Photo of a wave monitor with shockwaves coming from the bottom.

Shockwave Science

Queen’s University, Laurent Beland

Students will run a few computer simulations on Queen’s supercomputer, and analyze them. The student will simulate, atom by atom, how high-energy particles create super sonic shockwaves in metals. By doing so, they will simulate, and visualize, how atom-scale defects are created in materials used in nuclear reactors.

This is a project that would be best for a student who is interested in both physics/engineering and computer science. 

Photo of a glass triangle placed in the middle of a protractor reflecting a red light.

Picture this — the Science of Light

University of Ottawa, Jeff Lundeen and Aldo Martinez

We’re preparing a series of activities about Optics: the science of light! The students will learn about light, its properties, and applications of them. The activities consist of several hands-on experiments that involve the use of polarizer sheets, natural and artificial light sources, transparent materials. The students will also build their own pinhole camera and explore polarization effects in photography. By creating their optical wave-guides, the students will explore the mechanism behind an optical fiber! Finally the students will have the opportunity to virtually visit our research lab and see our current experiments!

Human Mechanics Behind Robots

Queen’s University, Amy Wu

The Biomechanics x Robotics Laboratory (BxRL) conducts research at the intersection of human biomechanics and robotics with the aim of augmenting human mobility. We are interested in understanding human locomotor and balance control behaviour and to apply biologically inspired principles to develop robotic technologies, such as legged robots and powered exoskeletons. Likewise, we aim to leverage robots to reveal the mechanisms behind human behaviour. We are passionate about using maker-style manufacturing techniques to build impactful, openly available robotic devices for both research and education. We are a part of Queen’s Mechanical and Materials Engineering department and Ingenuity Labs Research Institute.

Photo of a water sample being collected from a river. The person collecting the sample is wearing a blue rubber glove and carrying the clear vial.

The Water We Drink

University of Ottawa, Paul Mayer, David Bryce, Darrin Richeson and Adam Shuhendler

This activity is centred around water.  How do we clean it, how do we test it?  Student will work with four research groups from the Department of Chemistry and Biomolecular Sciences at the University of Ottawa spanning the disciplines of Physical Chemistry (Paul Mayer and David Bryce), Inorganic Chemistry and Catalysis (Darrin Richeson) and Chemical Biology (Adam Shuhendler).  They will be introduced to the water purification process and then work through a series of four activities focussing on a) physical water purification by filtration, b) conductivity measurements for salinity using a 9-V battery, c) testing water for pH, alkalinity and hardness, and d) mineral content (nitrates, copper, iron).  Experiments will be conducted with prepared kits and “do-it-yourself” activities using materials you find around the house/garden.  We will then analyze the results by location and distribution across the regions.

Photo of the Northern Lights glowing purple and green with spruce trees in the bottom of the photo.

Soil, Microbes, and Northern Lights

University of Manitoba, Ayush Kumar

These sessions will introduce you to some of the ongoing research activities in the Faculty of Science. There will be hands-on activities that will demonstrate the functioning of microbes. Students will be introduced to bacteria and discuss the differences between harmful and useful bacteria. There will be a panel discussion with graduate and undergraduate students in the Faculty of Science. Students will also learn about the Wawatay (Anishinaabe for Northern Lights).

Photo of a new plant in a soil sample. The person holding the sample is wearing white rubber gloves and is carrying tweezers.

More than Dirt

University of Manitoba, Annemieke Farenhorst

We are a research team that studies the quality of soil and water. In this section, we will talk about how soil can be a filter to protect the environment. We will show some of the instruments used to screen for pesticides, antimicrobials and other chemicals in water. We will also talk about biobeds, which is not something you can sleep in but it is actually something that helps to recycle pesticide waste and protects the environment. You will meet some of the students working on biobeds,  We will also show you some of our research findings such as what kind of pesticides we find in the environment and what type of chemicals we are going to look for this summer and where.

Photo of an overflowing trash container in the prairies.

Carbon Footprint — Waste

University of Manitoba, Joe Ackerman

Both of these topics have work for the students to complete before the online session (way before!). The Carbon Footprint section lets you navigate a carbon footprint calculator and figure out where you stand on that scale and what you might do to change it. The Waste section asks you to actually collect and sort the waste you generate in a week. It is a pretty interesting thing to do (I collected plastic waste for a year [see The long renovation project: video]). We will pool our data and talk about waste as a potential resource.

Photo of the sky showcasing the galaxy.

Fundamental Particles – Cosmic Rays and the Aurora

University of Manitoba, Juliette Mammei

Students will learn about the most fundamental particles that we are made of, and the forces that govern their interactions. They will participate in modules developed by quarknet, and guided by Dr. Mammei and members of her research group to analyze real data from an experiment at CERN – the Large Hadron Collider. Dr. Mammei will describe how fundamental particles affect our lives from radiation and its effects to the difference between cosmic rays and the aurora.

Solidworks Design

University of Saskatchewan, Dr. Duncan Cree

Students will learn about the most fundamental particles that we are made of, and the forces that govern their interactions. They will participate in modules developed by quarknet, and guided by Dr. Mammei and members of her research group to analyze real data from an experiment at CERN – the Large Hadron Collider. Dr. Mammei will describe how fundamental particles affect our lives from radiation and its effects to the difference between cosmic rays and the aurora.

BEAM Robotics

University of Manitoba, Dr. Witold Kinsner

For students interested in robotics, part of the project introduces the concept of a robot, and particularly the BEAM robot. It discusses the various components of a robot, as well as their interactions and constraints. It then attempts to design a small robot and implement it using inexpensive components. The objective of this part is to show that mathematics, physics, electronics, circuits, and design principles are all needed to accomplish such a task.

Partner Universities

University of Manitoba Logo

The University of British Columbia logo.

University of Calgary logo.

First Nations University of Canada logo.

University of Victoria logo.

University of Alberta logo.

University of Ottawa logo.

Dalhousie University logo.
McGill University logo.
Kwantlen Polytechnic University logo.

Queen's University logo.

Memorial University logo.

University of Saskatchewan logo.


The Verna J. Kirkness Education Foundation logo

To increase the number of Indigenous students graduating from pure and applied science, engineering, and mathematics programs in Canada. Charity Registration #822843629 RR 0001

Picture of student in a lab with a microscope behind them.

Mailing Address:

P.O. Box 47092
Calgary RPO Creekside, AB, T3P 0B9

Toll-Free: 1-888-647-1701

Office: (587) 814-0444

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