Creating possibility at the STEMpowered Conference 2024

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

The University of Waterloo’s Engineering Outreach team recently hosted 26 self-identifying Black high school students at its inaugural STEMpowered Conference on campus. 

The weekend-long event immersed the students from grades nine to 12 in the world of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) to foster their interest in pursuing a future in these fields. An action-packed schedule of tours, talks and workshops kept the participants busy from start to finish.  

Highlights from the first day included visits to Engineering research labs and the Sedra Student Design Centre where students had a great time interacting with the Waterloo Rocketry team. A series of workshops encouraging students to flex their creative skills with challenging activities was followed by an afternoon panel discussion with current Waterloo students sharing their university experiences and answering questions from the floor. This session was particularly impactful, providing the younger attendees with relatable insights and practical advice. 

“There was some great engagement between the high school students and the panelists,” said Iris Samputu, a PhD student in the Department of Chemical Engineering and a recipient of the Indigenous and Black Engineering and Technology (IBET) Momentum Fellowship. “Not just academically but also for them to form relationships and mentorships with university students.” 

Twenty participants stayed overnight in the United College dorms which gave them a broader sense of the university experience as well as more time to bond with each other and make new friendships.  

Day two started with an entrepreneurial focused workshop led by Folake Owodunni, a venture coach with the Black entrepreneurship program LiftOff and the co-founder and CEO of Emergency Response Africa. Owodumni engaged the group on startup areas such as project development and product pitching, priming the students for the big design challenge ahead. 

Incorporating skills learned from the workshops the day before such as rapid prototyping and 3D design, the students knuckled down to address a real-world challenge aligned with a UN Sustainable Development Goal of their choosing. 

“We watched some of the participants have real breakthroughs as they undertook the design challenge,” said Naomie Cecyl Seh Abomo, a fourth-year civil engineering student and co-founder of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) chapter at Waterloo.  

“Students were determined and excited to develop an idea that was their own. They pulled from their own knowledge and combined it with the skills they developed from the various workshops throughout the program to come up with incredibly detailed and innovative ideas. The best part was the fact that the ideas were sustainability focused, giving the students a true opportunity to showcase how they could impact the world.”  

In a session with Waterloo Engineering alum, LiftOff venture coach and founder of FourAll Ice Cream Ajoa Mintah (BASc ‘01, chemical engineering), the students were pleased to learn that making an impact can be tasty business. After a fun lesson in the science behind ice cream making, the students got to make their own strawberry ice cream — illuminating just how important STEM is in their lives already and the possibilities it holds for their futures.  

In the words of one participant as the conference wrapped up, “It was an amazing weekend and left a lasting impact on me, both personally and professionally.” 

The STEMpowered Conference 2024 was made possible with funds from the Yves and Cynthia Bled Future Achievers Foundation and support from community partners LiftOff, the Caribbean Canadian Association of Waterloo Region’s (CCAWR) Black entrepreneurship program; FourAll Ice Cream; the Waterloo Catholic District School Board (WCDB) and the Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB).  

Get in touch with Sophie Nasato, Senior Manager, Engineering Outreach at the University of Waterloo, to find out how you can support STEMpowered as a sponsor, donor, co-op student or community partner.   

Read Empowering Black youth to pursue STEM to learn more about Waterloo Engineering Outreach’s STEMpowered program.     

Waterloo Engineering STEMpowered Conference 2024

Students tackle a problem with STEM design skills

Waterloo Engineering STEMpowered Conference 2024

Panel discussion with Waterloo STEM students

Waterloo Engineering STEMpowered Conference 2024

Students making strawberry ice cream

Waterloo Engineering STEMpowered Conference 2024

Practising the 1-minute business pitch

Waterloo Engineering STEMpowered Conference 2024

Design challenge pitch done!