Zombies, microbes, robots and more! Young girls from TCHC communities STEM into action

Zombies, microbes, robots and more! Young girls from TCHC communities STEM into action

June 01, 2018

There's a zombie apocalypse taking over the city. You need a group of brilliant engineers to rescue residents from impending doom. Who do you call for help?

There's a sudden outbreak of a mysterious disease across the city. You need a group of microbiologists to contain it. Who do you call for help?

There's a massive bank heist and the robbers are on the loose. You need a group of forensics experts to analyze fingerprints. Who do you call for help?

The answer, in all three cases, is teen girls.

That was the message behind Toronto Community Housing's first-ever "STEM into Action" event on May 19. The day-long event was a chance to connect young girls from TCHC communities to the worlds of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

More than 100 teens spent the day participating in interactive workshops and meeting with female mentors to learn about STEM careers. 

IMG_7870.JPGParticipants of the STEM Into Action event get ready for a day of science fun.  

Hosted at the University of Toronto's Dalla Lana School of Public Health, the day kicked off with a unique panel discussion with female leaders in the fields of STEM.

The panelists included scientists, doctors, engineers and encryption specialists who shared the challenges of working as women in STEM and the importance of having strong female voices in male-dominated fields.

The speakers also offered advice to racialized young women and minorities who face additional barriers when pursuing an interest in such fields.  

IMG_7951.JPGA panel discussion featured (left to right) Dr. Lisa Robinson, Chief Diversity Officer at the University of Toronto's Faculty of Medicine, Dr. Eugenia Duodo, CEO of Visions of Science, Madhu Manivannan, IoT security entrepreneur and Ikran Ali, master's student at University of Toronto.

After the panel discussion, the girls dived into a series of interactive workshops aimed at testing their STEM skills and highlighting the many different aspects of STEM.

First was the "Forensics Fun" workshop, where the girls learned how to analyze their fingerprints and determine their shape and structure using forensic techniques. 

IMG_7971.JPGGirls take part in the "Forensics Fun" workshop, learning how to analyze their fingerprints.

Next door, a group of eager teens were busy exploring diseases and microbes, working together to decode symptoms and analyze potential cures.

IMG_8014.JPGParticipants learn how to investigate diseases and microbes.

During lunch, the girls had the chance to walk around a science marketplace, exploring robotics and science clubs from across the city.

IMG_8052.JPGThe science marketplace gave girls a chance to learn about robotics and machines.

IMG_8132.JPGA student learns how to use simple coding to program robots.

In the afternoon, the "Zombie Apocalypse" descended. The girls worked in teams to save the city (a hula hoop) from a band of zombies (a cup filled with popcorn). The catch? No one could use their hands. They had to use household supplies and their engineering skills to build a mechanism to remove the cup of popcorn from within the hula hoop.

The girls worked together with female graduate students from Ryerson's Faculty of Engineering and Architectural Science to devise a solution. 

IMG_8181.JPGGroups use their engineering skills to help save the city from a zombie apocalypse.

"It was amazing that see so many scientists, doctors and grad students volunteer a full day to share their love of science with young women on the cusp of making a career choice,' said Angela Cooke, Vice President of Resident and Community Services at Toronto Community Housing.

The event wrapped up with a marshmallow building competition where the girls had to build the tallest structure using only marshmallows and straws.

STEM into Action was made possible by a group of generous partners, including U of T Medicine, Visions of Science, hErvolution, the Ryerson Faculty of Engineering and Architectural Science, and Sister Code.

"Toronto Community Housing's support for STEM programs is part of a broader vision to empower young people and help them envision all the possibilities for their future," said Toronto Community Housing CEO Kathy Milsom, herself an engineer. "We are proud to bring a love of science and an awareness of STEM careers to youth in our communities."

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Congratulations to the members of TCHC's Community Economic Development team for organizing this amazing event and connecting young girls to the possibilities of STEM. Thanks to your efforts, Toronto Community Housing may have some budding future doctors, engineers and scientists on our hands!