Sept. 12, 2023

Alumni All Access: Open Your Mind

Dr. Kori Czuy is changing the ways we view education and experiential learning.
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TELUS Spark Science Centre

What if we were to step outside our ways of thinking? What if we looked beyond and viewed the world around us through a completely different lens?

One of the things we learn from an early age in education is that some courses are subjective, like art, music and poetry, while others are knowledge-based like science and math. It’s that space in the middle, between the subjectivity of some learnings and objectivity of others, where the gifted, the true innovators can thrive. Ideas and theories unbound by the ‘rules’ become the way forward when a solution is difficult or impossible to find.

What if we consider instead that it surrounds us — in nature, spirit and culture? It is only through reconnecting and learning from the past, viewing things through an immersive cultural lens and through an understanding of all knowledge that we will be able to see the full picture.

Dr. Kori Czuy, BA’04, PhD’20, manager of Indigenous Science Connections at Calgary’s TELUS Spark Science Centre, is encouraging all of us to expand our ways of thinking and consider the question: “What if science and math are more than what we read in a textbook or find in a classroom?” It’s a question she will be asking at an Alumni All-Access event she’s presenting at TELUS Spark.

Headshot of Dr.Kori Czuy

Dr. Kori Czuy, BA’04, PhD’20 is the Manager of Indigenous Science Connections at the TELUS Spark Science Centre.

TELUS Spark Science Centre

Starting the Journey

Czuy is Cree, Métis and Polish, born on Treaty 8 lands that encompass 39 autonomous Indigenous nations in northern Alberta, B.C., Saskatchewan and part of the Northwest Territories. She grew up in Canmore, completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Calgary in 2004 and went on to complete her master’s in education and international development in the U.K. in 2013 before returning to UCalgary to earn her doctorate in Indigenous mathematics in 2020. Her extensive academic journey bridged sciences and math with Indigenous Way of Knowing, which was put into action throughout her experiences learning, working and living abroad. Czuy describes her decade of living abroad as immersive and experiential, during which she developed much of her own knowledge alongside her pursuit of higher education and continues to influence and drive her journey and advocacy today.

During that immersive period, her career took off in a multitude of different directions. What began as a journey to teach English, volunteer and work around the world in various capacities ended up igniting an enduring passion to learn and educate.

It was while working with local Orang Asli (Indigenous children) in central Malaysia that she was motivated to pursue her master’s. She sought to learn ways in which Indigenous Ways of Knowing can support, contribute to and bolster education. Dr. Czuy’s open-minded and balanced ways of thinking sparked a connection with global learning and her Turtle Island Indigenous roots. Throughout her travels and education, her own knowledge grew and evolved, contributing to her ultimately coming home to Calgary and to the land in which she grew up on.

“It’s really humbling,” she says. “You’re not just travelling; you're living in places for six months to a couple years and get involved in in the cultures and the community … It really allowed for the humility that comes from being in a place where you know it's not your home and you get to learn and try a lot of new things."

“That obviously kind of got me on my journey to where I am today. But I also want to open up that aha! moment for many people. We all have that connection with the world around us, and it's often not taught or explored in those ways like other subjects.”

While trying many things during her journeys around the globe, Dr. Czuy says it always seemed to come back to education in one way or another. That led to her to the Institute of Education in London in 2012 and the pursuit of her master’s. Unlike many who constantly travel and explore the world, she found herself wanting to return home.  

“It created an interest in how do we understand and how our lives really revolve around how we are connected with the land and culture,” she says. “It inspired [me] to do the same and, whereas I think a lot of people travel to try to find themselves, it made me realize that I have to go back home and come back to Turtle Island [North America] to reconnect.”

Bringing It Home

Dr. Czuy joined the TELUS Spark Science Centre in 2020 first as a researcher during her PhD and then full time. While in this role, she identified that efforts to bring Indigenous perspective and Indigenous science into the centre were necessary. She was instrumental in creating, developing and implementing TELUS Spark’s Indigenous Action Plan, while focusing on community relationships while working closely with the Indigenous Advisory Circle in developing programs, exhibits and bringing protocols into institutional processes.

The Action Plan was shaped around the Circle of Life, a framework in which all things are connected and relational. The four components of the Circle represent the four directions, four sacred medicines, four stages of life, four ways of being, four winds and many more. Using this guiding framework, the Plan has four parts: the East represents community relationships and Ways of Connecting; the South represents Indigenous Ways of Knowing at every visit and includes physical, outdoor and virtual experiences; the West represents education and Ways of Learning; and the North represents organizational change and Ways of Doing.


TELUS Spark Science Centre

When visiting TELUS Spark today, one can see the presence of this strategy, from the artwork of many local Indigenous artists, each with their own story and connection to the land and cosmos, to the Indigenous science programs that focus on the immersion of local culture, science and knowledge.

Dr. Czuy seeks to make learning through immersion the norm: “I think that's what I try to do here, that exploration of learning where you don't really know that you’re learning, but then you are … and to be immersed in it, you really learn about it.”

She points to her and her team being able to adapt many internal processes in alignment with the Action Plan, such as finance and writing guides, to reflect oral cultures and history. They also host regular capacity-building sessions to support a workplace that is both inclusive and open to exploring science in multiple ways.

“I kind of realized that there are places around the world where numbers and counting is often based in community, based in the body and based in stories,” Dr. Czuy recalls. “It made me think about how that could change or would have changed how I connected with numbers and mathematics. I never connected to mathematics or even science when I was younger, but when I realized that this knowledge was all around us, and, in connection to us as humans and culture, it makes the topic relevant.”

At TELUS Spark, she has helped to create programs that remain unique, immersive and transcendent. Whether it be through the regularly scheduled “Indigenous Science Nights,” where participants can explore the depth of science within Indigenous Ways of Knowing; or collaborating with production companies and artists to create the immersive interactive Indigenous superhero experience, “Sacred Defenders of the Universe,” or taking the film Blackfoot Skies: Makoiyosokoyi and associated workshop —she co-produced the film — into local schools, there is a cultural tradition and responsibility to teaching that Dr. Czuy continues to honour.

“It's definitely been the Elders that have been inspiring and being able to learn about the significant depth of science and mathematics in Indigenous knowledge — it is unbelievable,” she says. “Learning from community [and] being open to learning from all that is around us the trees, the animals, they're our teachers, too. I'm inspired by community and how that knowledge has continued to be passed on from over the past few hundred years.”

TELUS Spark Science Centre

A digital immersion experience at TELUS Spark Science Centre, Sacred Defenders of the Universe, transforms the 3,000 square-foot space into a vibrant floor-to-ceiling journey inside a graphic novel.

TELUS Spark Science Centre

See it for Yourself

Dr. Czuy adds that there's often the perception that the work she does is only for Indigenous people. “I look at it in two ways; whereas, yes, I think for Indigenous communities and especially youth, it’s very important for them to understand the depth of the science and math within stories that they grew up with and within the land that’s all around them,” she says.

“But I think it's just as important for everyone to understand the depth of that knowledge and to understand there's not just one way, or a global way of methods and methodologies of doing, being and knowing [in] mathematics and science. Everyone should be able to see themselves reflected in science and math.”

TELUS Spark has a multitude of programs in the Indigenous science space. Dr Czuy continues to create and develop new and immersive educational experiences and has even started a new Ancestral Science: Tellings from Stones to Stars podcast. She says funds raised through the podcast go towards Elder/Knowledge keeper honoraria and keeping the production going.

“Like the Elders say, knowledge isn't knowledge if we don't pass it on,” Dr. Czuy says.

Dr. Kori Czuy will be hosting an all-ages, interactive presentation that explores the types of relationships different communities have with science as part of TELUS Spark’s UCalgary Alumni Day during Alumni All-Access 2023. Titled “Exploring Science through Experience and Spirit,” the presentation will take place Oct. 15 from 1 to 2 p.m. on the Inspiration Stage at the TELUS Spark Science Centre, 220 St. Georges Dr. N.E. For one day only, UCalgary alumni and their families will get a special 50% alumni discount on admission to the science centre. The first 250 guests checked in will also receive a fun space-themed goody.