By: Namish Modi (he/him)
LAUNCH Waterloo puts a unique spin on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) programming with the help of University of Waterloo co-op students.
Founded as a passion project by co-founders Tobi Day-Hamilton (BA ’99) and Angela Olano, LAUNCH brings the minor sport model to science and tech outreach.
Kindergarten to grade eight students work together in teams to complete fun, hands-on learning activities.
The teams, including some led by Waterloo co-op students, tackle challenges using coding, computational thinking and experimenting with scientific methods to engage their curiosity and creativity.
Encouraged to follow their passions, LAUNCH teams train to compete in STEAM leagues.
The Canadian Minor STEAM Association (CMSA), founded by LAUNCH, is building a national community of coaches and parents to support these STEAM leagues across Canada. CMSA has 15 regional clubs across Canada offering its programs.
Co-op students are essential to success
LAUNCH hires two co-op students each term. It has five Waterloo alumni who work at the organization in part-time or full-time capacities.
The organization looks for co-op students who connect well with young participants and can help to solve problems in creative ways. Co-op students work in a variety of roles at LAUNCH including program managers, teachers and curriculum builders.
Waterloo co-op students develop strong technical and interpersonal skills through both their academic and co-op experiences at the University. They bring these skills to their co-op work terms as coaches and game planners at LAUNCH and help the organization to be successful.
The co-op students we get are a special bunch. They have work experience; they have that drive and they just want to do good work. It makes it easy to choose Waterloo co-ops.
- TOBI DAY-HAMILTON, CO-FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR AT LAUNCH
Waterloo students excel as coaches
Amanda Helka (BSc ’19) is a Waterloo alum and program manager at LAUNCH. In Helka’s experience, Waterloo students excel in their roles as coaches.
“Students through Waterloo are challenged to succeed academically. Often in a co-op program, it can be a very heavy workload at times balancing both [academics and co-op work],” says Helka (she/her).
“Being able to balance all those expectations makes them very flexible and ready to jump into whatever challenge they have.”
Helka, who is also currently a Doctor of Pharmacy student at Waterloo, sees coaches assisting with a wide range of projects at LAUNCH.
For example, Computer Science students from Waterloo’s Faculty of Mathematics developed content related to machine learning for the participants; Chemistry students, from the Faculty of Science, developed programming related to cooking and food.
“I think Waterloo really pushes students to think outside the box and try to find alternative solutions to problems,” says Helka. “That's what makes them great as our coaches.”
Ameen Yaseen (he/him), a third year Mathematical Physics co-op student, worked as a program outreach and program co-ordinator with LAUNCH for his co-op work term in fall 2022.
“The team here is super flexible and invested in what they’re doing,” says Yaseen.
“It is a collaborative environment all around and just fun to work with. I think the main thing that attracts me and attracts a lot of people to jobs like this is really having the opportunity to encourage the next generation to get them asking questions at an early age.”
Waterloo students have a strong ability to be role models for the children in the LAUNCH programs, which makes them ideal employees and coaches according to Helka and Day-Hamilton.
“That’s probably the biggest thing — they get to be role models for the kids,” says Day-Hamilton.
“Ameen is a co-op student coach, and these kids love him, they look up to him. They come in every day, and they say, ‘coach Ameen’ and they are so excited. They ask him questions. Ameen can connect with the kids about what his future looks like and what he is learning in school.”
Using innovation and creativity to build an inclusive space
Day-Hamilton, a Waterloo Arts grad, describes herself as a techie who liked to pull things apart when she was growing up. The concept for LAUNCH reflects her own passions as a child and she envisions the organization filling a void for children who are interested in science and math.
She is particularly happy to see a high number of young female registrants in the program — especially with the gender imbalance that exists in technology and science-related roles.
“We want everybody to feel they can be part of LAUNCH,” says Day-Hamilton. “To be able to see lots of girls in these classes, it warms my heart. I know they are not going to be afraid. They will have that passion and excitement to go and try things.”
Day-Hamilton is confident Waterloo co-op students will continue to be an important component of operations at LAUNCH because of their ability to innovate and be creative while leading others.
“I know the value of co-op, and we knew we needed smart, bright students to help run the program,” says Day-Hamilton.