It’s an organization whose mission is to spark the love of science in children who may not have equal access to it.
Visions of Science offers free weekend camps in 25 low-income and marginalized communities in the GTA, focused on science, technology, engineering and math. CEO Eugenia Addy is looking to break down the barriers that children of colour often face when it comes to in-depth learning about STEM.
“I think the obvious barriers are sometimes finances,” Addy said. “For a lot of these enriched STEM programs it does cost money, but beyond that we have barriers of access. Where are these programs being held? How accessible are they? How easy are they to get to? And also barriers of just representation.”
The STEM camps are geared to children between Grades 3 and 8, with more than 150 volunteers taking part. Many of the youth who graduate from the camps return to volunteer as mentors with the younger children.
“When I first started with this organization it was just the hope that we would see alumni and youth be engaged in STEM and in their communities, but to actually see that – it’s so fulfilling,” Addy explained.
One of the graduates is 16-year-old Marques McLean-Robinson, who started with the program when he was about 8-years-old. He’s now looking into pursuing science as a career.
“Things like engineering. Between that and more theoretical based things such as physics and quantum physics. I want to dabble in because it seems really interesting to me,” the teen said.
Nawaal Ali-Sharif started with the program when she was 12-years-old. She’s now 17 and will be taking on a career in education thanks to her mentoring work with the kids. “Doing little experiments with them and seeing that light bulb go off in their head is honestly what made me want to become a teacher,” she said.
And she’s not the only one.
“I started off as a participant, so I was doing all these experiments and I was like, wow, I really want to come back and help these kids learn what I got to learn,” Arefa Tawafa explained.
The 17-year-old alum wants to be a special needs teacher and says her love for science grew exponentially after attending the program in her west-end neighbourhood.
The teens say having a black woman running the program, along with volunteers of colour on the frontlines, makes an impact as they begin to see themselves reflected in the world of science.
“A woman of colour being empowered to spearhead an organization like this that empowers others to also follow career paths that they might feel like they may not be very successful in — I feel it’s very inspiring” McLean-Robinson said.
“Having Eugenia kind of be there and say ‘hey, look at me, we can all do this’. It really does give all of us a chance and the inspiration we need to go into those career options if we do want to.”
Tawafa added, “I think these kids just really need that because they do really have an interest in STEM. They just need that push to tell them ‘yes you can do this. You are capable.’”
Visions of Science is hosting its annual fundraising gala next month. The Visionary Gala will be held at Daniels Spectrum on March 27. Information can be found at www.vosnl.org.
Addy plans for the program to expand.
“I think the future of research, the future of engineering, the future of tech is so bright. And I know it because I’ve met the youth and I know they’re going to be awesome.”