We’re at a turning point.
Collectively, we face significant challenges to our well-being and overall future existence as a society — climate change, healthcare, liveable cities, transportation, finance — the list goes on.
But there are solutions on the horizon, and according to Kostas Kontogiannis, professor of electrical engineering and computer science at York University, it’s going to take an “all-hands-on-deck” approach.
Specifically, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education, and preparing younger generations to embrace these sectors.
“We are at the point where we have the capacity to share knowledge through the internet and publications where we can make significant advances,” says Kontogiannis. “We need technological advances to solve these challenges.”
According to Statistics Canada, more than 130,000 Canadians graduated with a STEM degree in 2019. Furthermore, a 2019 survey by Randstad found that 65% of Canadians between the ages of 45 and 67 would focus on a career in STEM if they were 18 again.
“STEM is not only for crazy geeky people,” Kontogiannis says, laughing. “It’s for people that would like to make a contribution and provide solutions to the world’s biggest problems.”
Kontogiannis spends his day job working in computer science and electrical engineering, but highlights that STEM careers include much more than sitting in front of a computer.
“With science, it could be developing materials that make the colour of your car stay shiny. With math, it could be optimizing the schedules of buses. With industrial processes, it might be about developing material that makes airplanes lighter so they consume less fuel.”
Canada’s innovation conference set to host STEM Day for high school students
You’ve probably seen plenty of toys and activities geared towards kids to help them get interested in STEM, from tricked-out Lego projects to DIY robot coding kits. And if you’re a parent who wants to get your kids thinking about these fields early in their lives, their interest can really start to take off in high school.
For students who want to get a taste of what a STEM education — and thus STEM career — might be like, the WeaveSphere technology and innovation conference is opening its doors to people in grades 9-12 on what the event is calling “STEM Day.”
WeaveSphere brings together industry leaders, developers, and academics to “weave” together ideas that accelerate innovation. STEM Day takes place on November 17, the last of the three-day conference in downtown Toronto. Students from across Canada can also join parts of WeaveSphere STEM Day virtually by registering at the site.
STEM Day will outline the education pathways, scholarships, and funding opportunities available to students. This full workshop day will feature insights from industry leaders and academics, with plenty of opportunities for Q&As.
What’s important to know is that it’s open to everyone.
“In my opinion, the main thing we can do is to remove the stigma that STEM is only for men from specific backgrounds,” says Julia Rubin of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of British Columbia who is organizing STEM Day alongside Kontogiannis. “I grew up in the Soviet Union. People ask me why I chose STEM, and the simple answer is: nobody told me I wasn’t supposed to.”
While there has been a movement in higher-ed to open the doors of STEM education to women, Black people, Indigenous people, racialized and people of colour, those in the LGBTQIA+ community, and other marginalized groups, there is still a long way to go.
But as Rubin explains, spreading the word is very important to creating change.
“One of my goals with the STEM event is actually to try to reach out to communities that don’t traditionally hear from us,” says Rubin.
Conference roots inspired by real-life collaboration
In its 32nd year, WeaveSphere is a collaboration between IBM Canada’s academic and research technology conference (previously called CASCON) and Evoke Canada’s industry-focused developer conference.
The event is widely known in technical academic circles, as IBM Canada has fostered a robust academic community in computer science and software engineering for more than 30 years.
Outside of the event, both Kontogiannis and Rubin (and their students) regularly collaborate with IBM Canada’s Advanced Studies team who help shape their research. Those partnerships are unlike anything else in the industry, Kontogiannis says, highlighting five key differentiators of what it’s like to work with IBM Canada’s Advanced Studies team:
- They are committed to research (especially applied research).
- Collaboration allows them to build systems that are more widely applicable to real-world use cases beyond simple problem solving.
- They get access to a wider pool of provincial and federal funding, thanks to matching funds.
- Researchers can tap into a broader audience and patent their work.
- IBM Canada’s Advanced Studies team has a world-class reputation.
For Rubin, it’s also how Advanced Studies really cares about their fellows and students.
Get the Advanced Studies experience at WeaveSphere
If you’re interested in getting a deeper look at the collaborative IBM experience, the WeaveSphere conference is where you want to be — especially for all high schoolers considering a career in the STEM fields.
The conference’s STEM Day will include a full slate of activities and learning opportunities, including a look at current projects involving everything from the future of telecommunications to IoT to Quantum Computing, advances in STEM, and how research and work in STEM can help society in many different and unexpected ways.
One unique topic that will be discussed is how students from all backgrounds can fund their STEM education.
“We don’t want students to believe that if they don’t have enough money, they cannot go to university,” says Rubin. “We want to highlight the requirements, the funding opportunities, and what is the next step to get there if you want.”
And for students who may feel intimidated, just remember this piece of advice from Kontogiannis:
“Set goals in your life, work hard to achieve them, and you will achieve them. Don’t think of STEM as something that is difficult. Don’t be afraid to set your goals and work.”
Digital Journal is an official media partner for WeaveSphere. We will share updates leading up to the event, and we’ll be live on location from November 15-17,2022. Join us and get your tickets at weavesphere.co.