By Adam Landry
Photos by Melanie Mathieu

Over the course of nearly three decades, Carleton University’s Virtual Ventures (VV) has helped tens of thousands of youths pursue an interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) through a wide array of specialized programming aimed at developing their digital and technical skillsets.

As a not-for-profit organization run through Carleton’s Faculty of Engineering and Design, VV has long offered nationally recognized and award-winning technology and engineering programs for youth, including summer camps, clubs in the fall and winter, school outreach workshops, girls outreach events and more.

To kickoff 2023, VV was celebrated nationally once again – this time for its outreach in the community – as it received the Actua Experience Award – Go Where Kids Are, presented at a special ceremony at the Canadian Museum of Nature on Jan. 25.

“On behalf of Actua, I am thrilled to congratulate Virtual Ventures and Carleton University on being awarded the 2022 Actua Experience Award for the Go Where Kids are Program,” says Jennifer Flanagan, CEO of Actua. “We are proud to support Virtual Ventures in the development of their strong community partnerships, intentional program design and extensive instructor training.”

Actua serves as Canada’s largest STEM outreach organization, representing a network of over 40 post-secondary institutions nationwide that offer specialized programming for youth.

This year’s award marks the fourth time VV has received national recognition from its network partner, having previously been presented with the Actua Make Friends with Science Award in 2020, Actua Experience Award – National Girls Program in 2015, and Actua & GE Canada Award for Leadership and Innovation in 2012.

VV was presented with this year’s award based on its ground-breaking Linked> program, run collaboratively with Shopify and BGC (Boys and Girls Club) Ottawa. Initially launched in 2017 as a pilot after-school digital literacy program for underrepresented and underprivileged youth, Linked> has continued to develop with great success, setting the stage for VV and Shopify to roll out similar programs across Canada.

“The success and growth of the Linked> program partnership between Virtual Ventures, BGC and Shopify is a fantastic example of Virtual Ventures’ commitment to engaging youth in relevant programming that builds critical skills and confidence,” says Flanagan.

From left: Lauren Cauchy (Social Impact Lead at Shopify), Brittney Oberfeld (Head of Social Impact at Shopify), Christine Riddell (Executive Director of Virtual Ventures), Halle Blowes (Program Coordinator at Virtual Ventures), Kyra Bloomfield (Program Director at Virtual Ventures), and Melissa Marion (Volunteer & Education Programs Coordinator at BGC Ottawa)

Today, Linked> has evolved to offer three distinct programs, extending the positive impacts of VV’s programming across BGC clubhouses in Ottawa and nationally.

Linked> Classic reflects VV’s initial partnership with Shopify and BGC Ottawa – an 8-week program in which VV instructors and Shopify employees travel to BGC clubhouses across Ottawa to host after school programming where youth participate in self-discovery activities with new technologies.

Linked> Leaders, launched in 2021, engages older youth in STEM programming by providing training and employment opportunities that can extend the positive impact of Linked> to more clubhouses – providing youth from BGC in grades 9-12 with the skillsets to deliver programming to younger BGC members.

“Linked> Leaders employs high school youth at BGC to lead hands-on technology programs with younger youth in their community,” explains Christine Riddell, Virtual Ventures’ Executive Director. “This program model also allows us to expand the program nationally and provide these opportunities to youth across Canada.”

Virtual Ventures’ Executive Director Christine Riddell delivering Linked> At-Home kits to BGC Ottawa in 2021.

In 2020, VV launched Linked> At-Home Kits as a way to continue providing STEM programs from a distance at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The at-home-kits have since become a staple of VV’s programming, helping to engage youth in times when they are at home and not able to come to BGC clubhouses.

During Actua’s award ceremony, VV Instructor Eryn Tasseron was also presented with the Actua Instructor Recognition Award, which recognizes up to 3 instructors across all network members.

“Working at VV has been one of the most impactful and amazing experiences of my university career,” says Tasseron, a third-year student in Carleton’s Biomedical and Electrical Engineering program.

“It gave me the chance to explore my STEM interests, develop technical engineer skills, and connect with some amazing kids who inspire me everyday to stay passionate about learning.”

“With all that VV and Actua have done for me, I am so grateful to have been chosen for this award, and beyond thankful to the incredible women who run Virtual Ventures for allowing me to be a part of their amazing program and supporting me over the last three years.”

VV Instructor and third-year student in Carleton’s Biomedical and Electrical Engineering program, Eryn Tasseron (left) was presented with the 2022 Actua Instructor Recognition Award on Jan. 25.

First conceptualized in 1993, VV would go on to launch its first ever summer camps the following year to a group of 150 participants. Today, the organization has grown to reach more than 10,000 youths annually through a wide variety of engineering and technology-based programs for students ranging from junior kindergarten to Grade 12.

Thursday, February 2, 2023 in , , ,
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