Inspiring the next generation of Black STEM leaders

Black youth have opportunities to explore careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) through a new camp called STEMpowered.

Waterloo’s Engineering Outreach team created the camp in partnership with the Caribbean Canadian Association of Waterloo Region (CCAWR) and BrainSTEM Alliance, a network of STEM ambassadors led by award-winning social entrepreneur and engineer D’Andre Wilson-Ihejirika.

“I think it’s important for youth to see Black STEM professionals succeeding in their careers and enjoying what they’re doing,” Wilson-Ihejirika says. “There’s something to be said for being able to relate to a speaker or instructor – youth can be a little bit more themselves and they can see a path for themselves in STEM.”

Wilson-Ihejirika was helping the CCAWR build STEM programming when one of its board members, Trevor Charles, a Waterloo biology professor, connected her group to the Engineering Outreach team.

Scotiabank provides funding

The Scotiabank Future of Talent and Innovation Initiative funded the camp as part of a $1.04-million investment in the University community. The initiative supports engineering outreach for racialized elementary and high school students, along with the existing Women in Engineering (WiE) and Women in Computer Science (WiCS) programs at Waterloo. The investment also includes funding for research, innovation challenges and scholarships for students who are underrepresented in STEM fields.

“Building a more inclusive world is one of Scotiabank’s top priorities,” says Meigan Terry, senior vice-president, chief social impact, sustainability and communications officer at Scotiabank. “We are proud to work with academic institutions such as the University of Waterloo to help remove barriers to career advancement and make a meaningful impact on our communities.”

Systemic racism has created obstacles for Black professionals in STEM, leading to a lack of representation that deters young people from pursuing careers in those fields.

kids online in camp

Camp is rewarding for everyone

Working with the Engineering Outreach team has been very positive, Wilson-Ihejirika says. “They’ve been able to provide a strong foundation for the work that allows me and my team to focus on supporting the Black mentors as they come through, which has been a lot of fun.”

She says the mentors are happy to join the camp, which is one of several new initiatives to increase equity in STEM at Waterloo. “Many of the mentors are one of few Black people in their fields, so they see the importance of the camp,” she says. “They like to encourage the next generation and share their work in a way that’s fun and exciting.”

Plans for summer camp are underway, with an aim to include new mentors from different STEM fields. Past mentors have shared their expertise in areas including marine biology, engineering, astrophysics and actuarial science.

“The kids don’t know that some of these disciplines exist, or that Black people work in them,” says Wilson-Ihejirika, who specializes in chemical engineering and data analytics. “I get to learn about new disciplines as well. It’s a lot of fun; I’m excited to introduce the youth to all of these aspects of STEM.” 

Learn more about the Scotiabank Future of Talent and Innovation Initiative – including its impact on current Waterloo students.