Visions of Science Network for Learning
“STEM Leaders Career Development Initiative”
2019 – 2022
The STEM Community Leaders (SCL) program was established in 2017 with inaugural seed support from the Counselling Foundation of Canada. The program provides youth (grades 8 to 12) from low-income and marginalized communities with access to immersive STEM-based experiential learning opportunities, leadership development and community engagement. The implementation of the program has yielded several successful outcomes to date with 95% of participants indicating an increase in leadership skills and 100% indicating an increase in knowledge of STEM careers as a result of the program. One participant explained, “I had the opportunity to explore forensic sciences, and biotechnology. Those two days really got me interested in those fields. I had no idea what biotechnology and forensic science was, and know that I know, they are definitely an option for when choosing a career to pursue.”
As part of this grant, youth had an opportunity to acquire the specific skills and tools needed to advance their interests into attainable STEM careers.
Through this initiative, youth in the program were able to:
- Explore a wide variety of STEM careers and consider an extensive range of potential opportunities for their futures
- Hear from employers and workforce development experts to understand and appreciate what employers are looking for from jobs seekers
- Recognize their most transferable skills and appreciate their relevant experience (whether volunteer, paid, scholarly, etc.)
- Develop resumes, cover letters, and applications that curate and effectively communicate their most relevant and compelling experiences and strengths
- Be successful in securing scholarships, internships, summer jobs, and research positions
- Build experience in the workplace, guided by caring mentors invested in their professional development
In their post-evaluations, responses from youth illustrated:
- 94% of the youth reported that they better understood their transferable skills that could help them succeed in a career
- 88% of the youth reported an increased understanding of STEM career pathways.
- One youth stated: “Personally, I’ve always known that I want to go forward after high school and work through post-secondary education. But, I didn’t expect myself to think about going into a STEM-related field. After the sessions, I recognized my interests and skills in STEM (specifically medical sciences/life sciences), which now allow me to think about going forward and possibly becoming a doctor”
In addition, Visions of Science also produced a report called Equitable STEM Engagement in the Digital Era that highlights lessons learned from transitioning community-based STEM programs in low-income communities to virtual.
A few key insights from this work:
- While most employers look to late stage post-secondary students or recent graduates for recruitment, we have found that long-term, progressive engagement that starts earlier is deeply important for our youth’s success (i.e. starting with career exploration workshops/trips and job shadowing to build awareness and comfortability, and then progressing to short-term internships and job opportunities).
- Our long-term engagement model is deeply important for our success as many of our youth have been involved in our programs for many years already and have stepped into various leadership roles over time. Developing that further into career exploration and employment was a natural progression for their personal and professional journey. It was also deeply impactful for them financially, both in the present for those taking on internships and summer jobs who were able to be compensated, and in the future as they explore and build comfortability with career options that offer significant economic opportunity.
- For other organizations working with youth from low-income and racialized communities on workforce development initiatives, we would share:
- A lot of time is spent building confidence, self-efficacy, and belonging. Youth are battling systemic exclusion through a lack of access to meaningful opportunities and limited representation that can often manifest in internalized narratives about what they are or aren’t capable of. Unravelling these false narratives, building like-minded community with those from similar backgrounds, and developing competencies through experiential learning and practice takes time but is necessary for transformative change.
- Steps should be taken to ensure that the partners that youth are exposed to have an appreciation of your approach and the systemic barriers that participants face. In some cases, the exclusive opportunities that partners can offer may not be worth the potential harms that youth can be subject to in their workplace or institution. Take care to screen the people and values of the organization and establish expectations for how youth are to be engaged.
About Visions of Science Network for Learning
Visions of Science Network for Learning Inc. (VoSNL) is a charitable organization that aims to advance the educational achievements and career aspirations of youth from low-income and marginalized communities through meaningful engagement in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields and research.