Power To Choose

Andrea Elser (2011)

On Solid Ground

Graduation is right around the corner for Andrea Elser, who is completing her degree in Applied and Environmental Geology at the University of Calgary. Now she wants to help other Aboriginal girls to reach their potential.  Recently selected to be a coordinator for Alberta Women Science Network’s Aboriginal program, Elser is hoping to show young students that there are countless career paths just waiting for them to discover.

“In junior high, you don’t really know the types of jobs that are out there. Sure, everyone knows what a doctor does, everyone knows what a teacher does, but not many know what a geologist, abiologist or an engineer does.  I think job shadowing would be very beneficial for students, especially girls who think they are limited to choosing traditional careers.

Elser, whose mother is originally from Alberta’s Saddle Lake reserve, believes that it would mean a lot for impressionable girls to meet successful women in the field of science.

“When I was growing up, there were a lot of strong Aboriginal women role models for me to lookup to and that was great, but most of them worked in education or social work, not science. It’s a shame. In many ways, I think that not having a science mentor drew me to the opportunity to work with AWSN and to introduce girls to female Aboriginal professionals in science, engineering, health and technology.”

Elser’s desire to help others succeed seems to be inherent, as her parents are both involved in ensuring that students are engaged at school. Her father works as a resource and guidance teacher at Calgary’s Alternative High School and her mother is a consultant with the Calgary Catholic School District’s Aboriginal education team, overseeing programs designed to support First Nations, Metis and Inuit students who may be challenged by the expectations of the school system.

“Aboriginal students are used to being in small communities and relating within smaller groups. That’s why you can’t simply put a bunch of kids in a room and pile on a lot of information about work and careers and then ask them to imagine what their futures will be like. It’s difficult for them to make that connection.  But when you take them outside of the classroom and mentor them in groups of two or three, they’re much more receptive to what you’re talking about and what you’re trying to show them.”

Like her parents, Elser is also a teacher by nature. She has been a Netball team coach for under‐12 and under‐15 players and in addition, she is a classically‐trained violinist who tutors novice musicians through private lessons.  With graduation now quickly approaching, Elser is busy making decisions about her own academic future as well as reflecting on how far she has come.

“When I was younger, I really wanted to be a lawyer. My mom thought that I would be a doctor, but the idea of blood… well, let’s just say I’m not cut out for that,” she admits. “So I started university with a double major in English and Natural Science, and picked chemistry and geology as my two concentrations. Something about geology just really clicked with me. I realized that it’s what I was meant to do, so I switched my degree to geology.”

Elser is currently working as a research assistant with the Geological Survey of Canada as part of the federal student work experience program.  “They have a huge amount of geologic records, maps and actual rock samples in their database. My job is to search for any items or information that have been mislabeled and correct them to improve the quality of data they have on hand.”

From the sounds of it, this geologist in training has a rock‐solid future in her field.

“I have applied to be part of the Masters program at the University of Calgary and would like to get a Masters degree in hydrogeology (a branch of geology focusing on the distribution and movement of groundwater),” she says. “My dream job would be working in water resource management. I would want to make sure that our water resources in Alberta are treated with respect and that we have enough to last us for many more years to come.”

Through her studies and through her efforts guiding students involved with AWSN’s Aboriginal program, Elser would also like to apply her expertise to spreading greater awareness of what she does.

“A lot of people don’t understand the scope of geology. They think it’s only about studying rocks.  In reality, geologists are involved in almost every aspect of the world around us. Before a building gets built, you need to hire a geologist to determine that you’re putting the foundation in a safe and stable place. When someone is looking to reclaim land, they have to ensure the groundwater is uncontaminated. That’s what geologists do.”

Written by Barbara Chabai