Power To Choose

Paying it Forward (2014)

Enabling students to succeed in what they want to do.

It was her desire to become a doctor that initially inspired Dr. Michelle Hogue to pursue the sciences.  Dr. Hogue’s plans to become a medical doctor came from her desire to give back to society.  “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.”  

As a Métis girl growing up in a difficult family environment in Saskatchewan, Dr. Hogue credits these mentors for steering her in the right direction.  One of her most memorable mentors was her grade one teacher who taught Dr. Hogue how to read.  Reading books opened doors to possibilities and provided the escape she needed from her real life.  

​Dr. Hogue’s love for reading and writing was the reason English was her favorite subject in school, but she also loved 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 research assistant both in agricultural and in cancer research and for many years as an academic instructor at the University of Lethbridge. It was here that she began to have questions about how we teach, particularly the sciences. She decided to pursue answers to some of her questions by completing a Master’s and PhD. both in Education.

“I was always told that I would be a good teacher but I resisted it from high school onwards. No matter what, I always seemed to end up on the path of Education so I finally decided to pursue it to answer my own questions around teaching and curriculum.” 
​Since 2011, Dr. Hogue has worked as a professor at the University of Lethbridge, as well as the Coordinator of the First Nations’ Transition Program there.  From her research on science education, it has become clear to Dr. Hogue that young people learn science better when it is “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! No amount of reading is going to teach you to ride. You simply have to do it. So why do we expect that in learning? ”  This hand’s on approach is even more significant for her First Nations’ students.  

​“There’s this whole adage that you often hear and as Leroy Little Bear suggests is the philosophy that ‘Indian’s can’t do science’.  My philosophy is that the issue is in the way that it’s taught. In my experience, they certainly can do it and particularly if it’s taught differently!  In the First Nations’ paradigm everything is related and interrelated. The problem with the way we teach is that we begin with theory and make everything into compartments and we don’t build those bridges and connections between to inter-relate them.  Given Aboriginal ways of learning this is a challenge for the First Nations’ students.  They don’t see how chemistry relates to biology or how it relates to the theatre, or to English because it isn’t taught that way.”

Dr. Hogue has utilized a wide variety of methods such as drama, story, song, art, hands-on practical first 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 in their own culture and everyday lives.  

“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? Many laugh generally. Then I say, ‘These are all chemical reactions so by default you are all chemists.’ 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, technology and mathematics club she established for First Nations’ youth on reserve.  Here, she is able to put her research into practice by teaching science and mathematics using non-traditional methods, and connect it to culture and other aspects of life.

​So, although Dr. Hogue’s life did not go as planned, she still is paying it forward in a different kind of way. “It is a great gift to be able to enable these great youth to succeed in what it is that they want to do.  I think about opening doors in science and mathematics in particular, for my First Nations’ students so they might have the opportunity to pursue such related careers.”

Written by Anna Noga.