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High school students learn about opportunities in STEAM

EducationHigh school students learn about opportunities in STEAM

Eight-hundred high school students from Brantford, County of Brant and Six Nations of the Grand River attended the 2024 Vision in the Future conference at Wilfrid Laurier University’s Brantford campus on Wednesday, April 1, 2024.

The second ever STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) based event provided secondary school students with a first-hand look at several learning and career pathways.

The event kicked off with keynote speaker Sam Demma, co-founder of PickWaste, best-selling author and popular public speaker, followed by a host of workshops and seminars lead by employers, educational and community organizations, that explored developing technologies, encouraged collaboration, and challenged the teens to think about how they could make the world a better place. 

Demma, who walked on stage with a comically large backpack, a symbol of carrying the weight of the thoughts and opinions of other people on your back, said that he had several goals for his presentation.

Sam Demma, co-founder of PickWaste and best-selling author, speaks about the weight of an invisible backpack during the 2024 Vision in the Future conference at Wilfrid Laurier University’s Brantford campus on Wednesday, May 1, 2024.

One, to remind the students that they have a backpack and to help them let go of it by working to identify the things that they need to get rid of. And two, to remind them that every single human being also has a backpack and that they should be treated with kindness and respect.

“People’s words about you, don’t define your self-worth. You and I don’t have to live our lives carrying around the negative thoughts and opinions that society and other people place on our shoulders,” he said. “…I believe every single one of us have a backpack like this strapped to our shoulders and that it’s invisible from the day we were born to the day we pass away. You and I go through life and we have unique experiences which change the beliefs that we carry and some of the beliefs in our backpack are negative, their limiting and they weigh us down, they stop us from making the impact we’re supposed to create in our lives.”

High school students carefully listen as Sam Demma chats about small consistent changes during the 2024 Vision in the Future conference at Wilfrid Laurier University’s Brantford campus on Wednesday, May 1, 2024.

Demma also spoke about how there is power in small consistent actions, and that if you don’t know where to start, the first step is following through with the promises you make to yourself.

“We make so many promises to so many people; Promises to our friends, our teachers, our coaches, our parents, our principles and our peers. We do whatever it takes to keep the promises that we make to that human being because we respect them and we know that if you break them, there’s going to be consequences,” he said. “But there’s one person in our lives whose promises you and I break more than anybody else. Sometimes it’s as if we have less respect for ourselves than we do for the people around us but the future is waiting for us and it hinges on our ability to keep the promises we make to ourselves to do the hard work that’s required even when nobody else is watching or rooting for us to make the right choice.”

David Page, Department Head of Science for Assumption College School (ACS), said that while they originally thought about getting a more science-based keynote speaker, he and his team decided that Demma was a great choice to kick off this year’s event.

“Sam was really perfect in terms of opening their minds to possibilities,” he said. “We’ve got 27 workshops and 13 seminars with 75 different presenters coming down from as far as Queen’s University in Kingston and today they really get to show off and talk about things that they love. It’s such a buffet of opportunities and hopefully after hearing Sam’s talk, these students will now go into those workshops with respect, with their ears open and be willing to get involved.”

Students work on dissecting a sheep brain during the 2024 Vision in the Future conference at Wilfrid Laurier University’s Brantford campus on Wednesday, May 1, 2024.

From board game design to brain dissections, collaborative robots, engineering watts in the wind, forensics, and environmental cleanup, there were plenty of interesting topics for the students to discover.

Many were walked through the basics of coding a video game, instructed to build their own miniature wind turbines, learning about environmental clean-up or how to utilize fingerprints in forensics.

After lunch, students then made their way to their second and final workshop of the day before moving on to the one of 13 seminars and finally wrapping up.

A classroom of secondary school students builds their own miniature wind turbine during the 2024 Vision in the Future conference at Wilfrid Laurier University’s Brantford campus on Wednesday, May 1, 2024.

Page said that the idea for the event came after years of hosting STEM speakers and workshop at his own school and that he wanted to be able to open it up to others.

“We’ve done so many different workshops at ACS and I was developing a lot of connections within the scientific community and it’s just kind of built over the years to the point where I said, ‘I want to be able to share these resources with the rest of the city,’” said Page. “I have lots of teacher friends at other schools and boards, so I told them what was going on and asked if they wanted to get some of their kids together and to do something with us. It started off small but it just kind of snowballed and now here we are, at the pinnacle of it all.”

Several students learn the basics of coding a video game during the 2024 Vision in the Future conference at Wilfrid Laurier University’s Brantford campus on Wednesday, May 1, 2024.

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