By Laura Bickle
Eugenia Duodu was starting her PhD in chemistry at the University of Toronto in 2012 when she decided to Google her two passions: science and community. The results led her to Visions of Science Network for Learning, a non-profit organization that promotes STEM learning (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) for children in Grades 3 to 8 in the Greater Toronto area’s marginalized and low-income districts, like the one in which she grew up.
“The importance of STEM education has been gaining traction. There is a lot of unmet need in these communities and I knew this organization could be that bridge,” says Duodo. She became a volunteer in a Visions of Science outreach event and quickly transitioned to the organization’s full-time executive director. The program currently serves 700 students per year in 24 communities and launched a summer camp this year.
Why is it important to have an organization focused on STEM?
STEM presents so many touchpoints where there are immense opportunities to change your socio-economic status. I am an example of that. But there are barriers to engagement. It’s important to make sure youth have an equal opportunity to engage in STEM — whether to pursue a related career or just understanding how the world works around them.
How do you address the barriers?
Our organization is part of an ecosystem of support for students that includes home, school and community. We make sure programs are accessible, within walking distance, consistent (weekly) and free of charge. We have representative role models. Lack of representation impacts our perceptions about who can participate in fields — youth need to learn from people like them.
Can you share a success story?
Two of our participants, who went on to become STEM community leaders (a Visions of Science program for high school students), entered a competition through the Youth and Philanthropy Initiative to raise money for the organization. As part of their application, they did a science experiment to illustrate the value of the program. They won $5,000 and invested it back into Visions of Science. To see that level of civic engagement really underscored why this program is important.
What role can teachers play in promoting STEM?
Teachers are our champions. Many have advocated for students to be involved and some even volunteer in the program. In my own experience, it was teachers who encouraged me to stick with STEM. It made all the difference. Teachers have such a critical role to play in students’ educational journeys, especially for students who are under-represented and marginalized. Teachers can be the tipping point.