Youth adoption of science and technology ‘stems’ from early engagement

Actua’s home cultural kits for Indigenous students help spread STEM career awareness

“Our mission has stayed the same, but the scope and need have grown dramatically.”

That’s the challenge for Actua, the national charity that has helped more than five million Canadian youth to become innovators and leaders within the STEM fields for more than 25 years. And over that quarter-century, the organization has made considerable progress in achieving its goal—but the work is far from done.

“It all really started on the premise of wanting youth to be aware of and excited by the science that surrounds them,” says Jennifer Flanagan, CEO of Actua. “In this time a lot has changed, but that has held true. We want youth to gain the skills and confidence needed to thrive in today’s data-driven science world and tomorrow’s workforce.”

With the program delivery largely conducted in-person, the 2020 global pandemic presented a challenge for the organization to continue reaching students in targeted, underrepresented communities.

Enter Actua’s cultural kits, which were developed and sent out to some of the 200 Indigenous communities Actua works with across the country to make up for the paused in-person learning. Contained in these kits are materials to build things like tipis and canoes with locally harvested materials, which dovetails the cultural significance of these materials with the science behind their structure.

“We feel lucky to be able to execute these cultural kits, in addition to our general STEM kits—it’s been great to see how well-received the kits have already been among students, schools and teachers,” says Flanagan.

This year, Enbridge gave $200,000 to Actua as part of our commitment to sustainability in the communities near our operations. The funds helped deliver the cultural kits to Indigenous communities and recipients across Canada.

Actua currently delivers programs in 500 communities across the country and engages 350,000 youth each year. Its biggest programs include the Indigenous Youth in STEM and National Girls Program, both of which focus on increasing awareness and interest into STEM fields.

“Today, there are still groups that are vastly underrepresented, and we remain focused on those groups. It’s essential to build formal recognition of STEM engagement early on in the innovation ecosystem,” says Flanagan.

“You can’t just begin that at university—it has to start way earlier.”

So early, in fact, that Actua has some great comeback stories. Roughly 20 to 25% of the 1,000 undergraduate students Actua employs to carry out the programs across Canada are former campers themselves.

“When kids have confidence, their view of the world changes. When they understand how science or technology works, it can ultimately empower them to achieve their full potential.”