Mac grad leading new outreach program in Science
Aaron Parry runs a program for high school students to get the feel of what it would be like to attend McMaster University.
Getting a teenager out of bed before noon on weekends can test the patience of any parent.
Now try it with 15 teens who need to be at McMaster by 9:30 am on a Saturday.
Aaron Parry makes it look easy. He runs the new McMaster Equitable Pathways to Learning University Science (MePLUS) program out of the Dean’s Office and supports a team of four facilitators and six mentors.
MePLUS is open to Grade 11 and 12 students from equity-deserving groups across Hamilton. The program runs from September to July, with teens spending one Saturday a month on campus. Faculty of Science departments and schools take turns hosting hands-on workshops run by faculty, staff and students. The teens also get ongoing mentorship and leadership coaching.
The program’s an easy sell, says Parry. “The students want to be here. They get to invite their friends and hang out together. They know the program was created for them. They feel they should be a part of it. They’re a really engaged group.”
It also helps that everyone involved with the program can relate and meets the teens where they’re at, says Parry. “We put ourselves in their shoes and see McMaster through their eyes. It can be daunting to go from high school to university. It definitely was for me. No one’s reminding you to get up and go to class, study and turn in assignments. It’s a big transition.
We’re here to answer all their questions and show that they belong on campus.”
Parry admits he didn’t start thinking about university until the summer before starting at McMaster. That made for a rough start, even though his older brother and sister are McGill and Queen’s grads. Parry would go on to earn an Honours Bachelor of Arts, Anthropology and Indigenous Studies with a minor in African and African Diaspora Studies. He paid his own way through school and relied on loans and grants to make ends meet.
“We’re having conversations with the MePLUS students that I wish I’d had back in high school. It would have made a real difference for me.”
There were only 10 Black students at Parry’s secondary school in Grimsby. There were no Black teachers, although one was an ally who encouraged Parry.
“She was a really supportive teacher. I got lucky. Not every student gets that kind of support in high school.”
McMaster was a gamechanger, Parry tells the teens in MePLUS. “Coming to Mac was definitely a positive cultural shift for me.”
Parry joined the Black Students Association, the McMaster African Students Association and The Cooperation of Indigenous Students Studies & Alumni. He got involved with Welcome Week, the McMaster Black Graduation Committee and worked as a research assistant on the Confronting Atrocity Project, as a support assistant with the Indigenous Studies program, a program coordinator with the Afro Canadian Caribbean Association and a writer with TRAD magazine, a publication for African ideas and collective memories.
Parry’s passionate about community work so he jumped at every opportunity to get involved while at McMaster. It became his unofficial minor. “If someone asked me to help out, I’d do it.” Along with managing MePLUS, Parry continues to pitch in with tours and events for the Faculty of Science and McMaster.
That willingness to get involved and welcome prospective students has impressed Kalaichelvi Saravanamuttu, the Faculty of Science’s Associate Dean of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Indigeneity (EDII). Saravanamuttu is one of the core founders of MePLUS, along with Associate Dean of Research Juliet Daniel and assistant professors Robert Cockcroft and Rodrigo Narro Perez.
“In just a few months, Aaron’s had profound impact on EDII-focused outreach in our Faculty of Science, from leading initiatives like MePLUS to collaborating with outreach groups both in our Faculty and across the University,” says Saravanamuttu.
“Aaron brings a thoughtful, evidence-based approach to student outreach, along with deep community engagement and a real sense of joy and purpose for the work. It’s such a privilege to work with, and learn from, Aaron.”
Parry and MePLUS also earn high marks from Grade 12 student Ademide Abogunrin. She first met Parry when he was the graduation coach for Black students at the Hamilton Wentworth Catholic District School Board.
“Aaron’s doing an amazing job connecting so many BIPOC students to resources and opportunities. He’s really someone you can lean on and talk to, especially during trying times. He’s encouraged me on so many occasions and been there academically and personally. Aaron’s helped me grow as both a student and a person.”
Abogunrin signed up for MePLUS after talking with Parry about the program. She’d only been on campus once before with a Grade 11 health class. “MePLUS sounded like a great way to connect with other students who are the same boat as me. I’ve learned so much already about science and McMaster.”
Abogunrin’s applied to nursing schools, with McMaster as her first choice. She hopes to work in an intensive care unit or as a travel nurse. “I thought Mac was a little intimidating at first but now it’s a familiar place. I’ve become more and more comfortable talking with all the professors, staff and students that we’ve met. I love the community feel at McMaster.”
As for those 9:30 am Saturday morning starts, Abogunrin says it’s a non-issue. She’s a morning person. “I get up relatively early on weekends. I’m up and about by 8 a.m., 9 a.m. at the latest.” So Abogunrin’s early morning classes in nursing school next fall won’t be a problem. And she’ll know beyond a doubt that she belongs on a university campus.