Waterloo Engineering is offering free tutoring to high school students across Ontario to help them succeed with remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new program, known as Hive Mind, is aimed at Grade 10, 11 and 12 students who are struggling in advanced functions, calculus, chemistry and physics—all key subjects required to pursue post-secondary engineering programs. 

Leanne Predote, senior manager of engineering's outreach department, says Hive Mind was launched earlier this year to help ensure students interested in pursuing a post-secondary STEM education would not be at a disadvantage because of the coronavirus restrictions to in-person classes. 

“Many are struggling with digital divide issues and additional mental health stress and can’t learn as well in an online environment,” says Predote, a Waterloo alumnus who graduated from mechanical engineering in 2002. “Hive Mind gives them the one-on-one support they need right now.”

Breaking through systemic barriers

Angela Pause, senior writer with Engineering's advancement team and part-time student of Waterloo's Master of Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology (MBET) program, came up with the idea for Hive Mind late last year.

While working on an MBET assignment, Pause learned that during epidemics many girls' grades suffer or the young students drop out of school altogether because they assume more familial duties including sibling and elder care.

"One day you’re a high school student and the next day you are also looking after siblings who are now at home because in-person learning is cancelled," she says. “Women already have systemic barriers to entry in STEM programs and I didn’t want this pandemic to be one more obstacle standing in their way. I work in Canada’s largest engineering school where we have an amazing outreach team, so I figured we could find a way to help struggling students. “

Individual or group sessions

Once her project was fleshed out with engineering outreach members, it received full support from many including Predote and Mary Wells, dean of Waterloo Engineering. 

While available to all high-school students, Hive Mind is being run as part of Waterloo’s Women in Engineering (WiE) program, of which Predote is a member. 

Students can register through the Hive Mind site for individual or group sessions with one of two Waterloo Engineering undergraduate students employed as learning assistants for their spring semester co-op work terms.

Since February, over 120 have registered for the program and 350 one-on-one sessions have been held.

Aligned with outreach efforts

Predote says response to the program has been “overwhelmingly positive,” with students commenting that the learning assistants were able to answer questions and provide explanations both clearly and concisely.

Many of the over 300 schools contacted about Hive Mind are in rural areas where there are generally fewer extra learning resources offered than in larger cities.

While established to fill a need caused by the pandemic, Predote says Hive Mind could be continued when students return to in-class learning. 

“It’s in alignment with our outreach efforts,” she says. “We’ll evaluate it as we move forward but I think it’s definitely a worthwhile program to continue.”