Oct. 27, 2022

Professor helps Indigenous communities define paths to a stronger future

2022 Top 40 Under 40: Dr. Kerry Black, PhD, assistant professor, Schulich School of Engineering, and Canada Research Chair
Kerry Black
Kerry Black Avenue Magazine

That the state of water and sewage systems in First Nations communities is dire, there is no doubt. Nor is there any question that, in addition to developing innovative systems and technologies, engineers also need to gain knowledge and perspective of the Indigenous way of life to help guide their solutions. This is precisely where Dr. Kerry Black, 37, excels. As a non-Indigenous person committed to walking a path of reconciliation, Black works with Nations and communities toward self-determination, ensuring numerous diverse players are brought to the table. Assembling different voices, knowledge and value systems, says Black, is the best way to co-develop tools, plans and training systems that will leave communities healthier and more resilient.

What has been your biggest career highlight?

Coming to the University of Calgary and being supported through the Canada Research Chair Program, and being able to — and encouraged to — dive into the area I was most passionate about. This Chair has afforded me the flexibility needed to fundamentally do research differently, to challenge new ways of thinking, to redefine my own idea of what engineering is and what engineers do.

What is the most satisfying thing about your job?

Working directly with Indigenous communities. I love learning from the Nations that I work with and engaging in meaningful dialogue on important issues.  I also love working with students, and seeing the world through their eyes, exploring different perspectives and helping them to understand and see the world in new and exciting ways.

If you were to go back to school, what would you take?

Everything. Fine arts, social work, medicine, law, Indigenous studies, all of it.

Any advice for students or new grads? 

Don’t rush real life — you have lots of time to figure it all out, enjoy "not knowing" what you want to do, enjoy discovering who you are, and finding your own unique path.

A guilty pleasure?

Red velvet Crave cupcakes, movie popcorn and those sugary mellowcreme pumpkins.

Why is mentorship important?

Mentorship has always been important in my life in helping me reframe problems, to see new solutions and to understand myself better. The mentors in my life have had such an important role in guiding and advising me. As a mentor myself, I learn so much from being a mentor, and it is always humbling to engage in a two-way mentorship where we can all learn from one another.

When you are not working, what do you do? 

Run after three boys, all under the age of nine, and my 12-year-old dog!

What are you reading these days?

Tomson Highway’s Massey Lectures, Laughing with the Trickster.

With files from Avenue Magazine.

Meet the entire 2022 cohort of Top 40 Under 40 honourees at Avenue Magazine.