Verna J. Kirkness, a member of the Fisher River Cree Nation and national leader in education in Canada has inspired countless students and educators in both Indigenous and non Indigenous communities and who through her vision and determination has successfully established new institutions that contribute to excellence in Indigenous education.

Dr. Verna J. Kirkness


The Verna J. Kirkness Science and Engineering Education Program addresses the under-representation of First Nations, Métis and Inuit

students at Canadian universities. One of the factors contributing to this is the lack of academic role models for these students.  The Foundation addresses this by offering scholarships to Indigenous grade 11 students to spend a week at a Canadian university interacting with scientists in their research laboratories. During their week on campus the students have the opportunity to meet role models, learn about the support systems that are available to them on campus and experience the excitement of doing researc

Testing at UBC - Credit: Jody Jacob


The Foundation was founded in 2008 by Ron Woznow and Susan O'Brien and was originally named the Family Food Research Foundation. It is a registered Canadian charity. Its goal was to increase the number of First Nations, Métis and Inuit students graduating from post secondary science programs.

In 2008, Dr. Woznow was the CEO of the Advanced Food and Material Network (AFMNet) and in 2008, 2009 and 2010 the Foundation received seed funding from AFMNet. The first program was offered in 2009 and was called "Be a Food Researcher for a Week". Eight students from across Canada were given full scholarships to spend a week on campus learning about food research and the support that was available to them if they did post secondary studies. This program was modeled after the "Be a Genetic Researcher for a Week" program which Dr. Woznow started in 2001 while he was the CEO of the Canadian Genetic Diseases Network.

In 2010, Dr. Emoke Szathmary, the past president of the University of Manitoba, introduced Ron to Dr. Verna Kirkness who was widely regarded as the leading Indigenous educator in Canada. She was supportive of foundation's goal and agreed to lend her name to the foundation which was renamed the Verna J. Kirkness Education Foundation. In 2013, the Foundation expanded the scientific scope of its program to include research in both science and engineering and renamed the program the "Verna J. Kirkness Science and Engineering Education Program".


From 2012-2014, the Program was offered at the University of Manitoba. In 2015, a Program was added at the University of Saskatchewan and in 2016 at the University of British Columbia. In 2018, the Program expanded to the University of Calgary, First Nations University of Canada and the University of Ottawa. In 2019, Programs were added at the University of Victoria and University of Alberta bringing the number of programs to 8. 130 students from across Canada attended the 2019 Programs and were mentored by 53 Professors and their research associates.

“I now know I wouldn’t want to work in a lab but I am still interested in the sciences. I am very capable of graduating and going to post-secondary school. It will be hard but I can do it. I loved this program and it was a great opportunity. I would do it again if I could.”

-Trina - Baker Lake, Nunavut

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