Why is it important to engage youth in engineering?

Posted on Monday, March 7, 2022

Teenagers participating in outreach activities.

Engineering Outreach programs are becoming more and more popular in Canada and around the world. Those programs, usually led by universities or academic institutions, bring engineering workshops and activities to kids in elementary and high schools. At the University of Ottawa, an Engineering Outreach Office was launched in 1991 and provided programming to only 60 participants at first. 30 years later, 43,000 youth are reached yearly through their camps, clubs, workshops, and events. But, what is the purpose of engaging youth in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) at a young age?

The truth is that traditional education can create barriers for children and teenagers who are learning STEM.

First, engineering or technology courses are not necessarily offered in all high schools, so a student who would have been interested in computer programming could have never gotten the chance to explore this option in high school. Outreach initiatives can start to fill this gap by introducing teenagers to material otherwise not included in the curriculum, such as virtual reality and coding.

Teenagers taking traditional science or mathematics courses can also find it difficult to understand what their career options would look like if they decide to pursue the field. These traditional courses are challenging, and can lead to loss of motivation and interest among teenagers.

However, through outreach programs, teenagers get to experience the diversity of careers available in the STEM fields, which include highly exciting options such as environmental engineers, aerospace engineers, artificial intelligence and robotics specialists, or data scientists.

The uOttawa Outreach Office at the Faculty of engineering offers, for example, a hands-on enrichment program for high school students where participants will learn about a different STEM field every week. The program is taught by mentors and professionals of the field at the University of Ottawa, so participants really get to experience a taste of the careers in STEM that are available to them. This program can often motivate teenagers to persist through their traditional science and mathematics high school classes once they have an end goal in mind.

Additionally, the current STEM landscape unfortunately lacks diversity. According to Engineers Canada, women only make up about 18% of newly licensed engineers in Canada, and the percentage of black, indigenous, or disabled engineers is even lower. Since our world is shaped by engineers, a diversity of perspectives amongst them is fundamental to achieve an inclusive society.

Outreach creates opportunities specifically for these students to explore and get interested in STEM fields. ICS2O, for example, is a course offered by the Faculty of Engineering Secondary School at the University of Ottawa to grade 8 to 12 girls who will receive tech training while participating in the world’s largest tech entrepreneurship competition, Technovation, while also obtaining one Ontario high school credit. This experience alone can often motivate girls to aim for a career in STEM.

Finally, there is a benefit to participating in Engineering Outreach initiatives, even for students planning to pursue completely different fields. “Engineering is a critical discipline in the development of new technologies that now saturates most disciplines today” says François Bouchard, the uOttawa Faculty of Engineering Outreach Office Manager and Founder. “An engineering degree is a strong foundational set of tools to understand modern problems and their impact on society even if one does not become a professional engineer”.

Interested in registering your kids to an Engineering Outreach activity? We invite you to browse our clubs, workshops and events on our website.

Our Faculty of Engineering Secondary School also offers high school students from grade 8 to 12 the opportunity to take courses while gaining credits toward their Ontario secondary school diploma. All courses offered follow the Ontario curriculum guidelines while engaging students in hands-on learning opportunities in technological design or computer science. Learn more or to enroll a student in one of our high school courses.

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