By Leah Coppella
This spring and summer, Virtual Ventures at Carleton University is making STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) even more accessible for kids in Ottawa by enhancing the remote delivery of its renowned camp programming.
As a not-for-profit organization operating out of Carleton’s Faculty of Engineering and Design, Virtual Ventures (VV) offers nationally recognized and award-winning technology and engineering programs for youth, including a yearly summer camp, clubs in the fall and winter, school outreach workshops, girls outreach events, and InSTEM (Indigenous Youth in STEM) programs.
After more than 25 years of providing Ottawa youth with experiences in engineering, science and computer technology, VV has had to switch to a new model during the COVID-19 pandemic, in order to continue their legacy of engaging and exciting STEM programming.
Christine Riddell (BIT/17), Director of Carleton’s Virtual Ventures, says that they had to quickly pivot towards an at-home model early last year.
“In March 2020, we started working on an at-home model of programming, starting with STEM kits that kids could complete at their own pace in their homes.”
Their first experiment with this model was when VV’s computer skills program, Link<ed>, in partnership with Shopify, was cancelled in the middle of its run. The after-school program for Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa (BGCO) members is usually offered for 12-weeks, twice a year, with sessions held weekly at BGCO clubhouses across the city.
“At the time, we wanted to fill the gap and make sure these youths didn’t miss out on our programming,” says Riddell.
“We wanted to find a way to engage them, keep them curious and learning, especially because we knew that they’d be looking for ways to keep busy at home.”
The new model saw unprecedented success. VV was able to reach more than 1,500 BGCO and BGC Canada youth through at-home kits. After one year of online delivery, VV has continued to reach almost 5,000 youth annually, thanks to their innovative programming. VV’s girls programming for female-identifying youth has reached more than 1,000 girls, including International Women’s Day kits and live events, Go Code Girl & Jr Code Girl kits and live events which reached 300 girls, marking 2021’s Go Code Girl the largest outreach the event has ever received at Carleton.
VV has continued to test out different models throughout 2021, in order to reach more youth and provide even better programming. This spring and summer is no different, as virtual camps are coming back bigger and better for youth in Grades 1-11.
Campers will receive an at-home kit with curbside pick-up and delivery options, containing all the supplies they need to complete unique STEM activities. Campers will then get to participate in a live daily virtual camp, paired with counsellors and other campers.
Sukriti Kumar, student and STEM Camp Instructor, is eager to make the virtual camps fun, despite being unable to interact in person.
“As a STEM education admirer, I’m most excited about bringing the ultimate summer camp experience at home by creating and executing captivating projects for campers,” she says.
“Interacting with students who are excited about STEM and are open to trying new things is a recipe for a fun-filled summer, even virtually!”
This new model will allow for a combination of hands-on STEM activities and on-computer digital skills-based activities.
“I am super excited to share our STEM activities with kids through virtual instruction and demonstrations, while also being able to interact with everyone from the comfort of our own homes,” says Ariane Roy, Program Coordinator and student.
Roy says the VV team is more passionate than ever about sharing specially curated lessons in a multitude of fun, STEM topics.
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