Building blocks that spell out the word "STEM" with blue icons above. Icons are of machines and a lightbulb. Childs finger is pressing down on the "M"

Bringing STEM to Girls and Gender-Diverse Youth in Waterloo Region

From 2013-2020, YWCA Cambridge was home to two incredible STEM-based programs: STEM Mentoring and TechGyrls. As part of these YWCA Cambridge-made programs, staff would often invite guests from the local science, tech, engineering and math communities to come speak to youth participants, sometimes leading activities to give participants hands-on experiences. 

Youth loved these sessions and often told facilitators they wished there was a STEM-based activity fair for folks their age in Cambridge, a place where there could be multiple guest presenters under one roof, and participants could choose which guests they wanted to learn from, all housed in a safer space for cis and trans girls and gender diverse youth. In 2016, we made it happen and the STEM Mini-Con was born. 

That year, and each year up to 2019, we hosted a mini-con; and each year, it got bigger and bigger. More companies signed on and more youth came out to engage. Cut to 2020: the COVID-19 Pandemic hit right before our 4th annual event. This was quite a sting for us, as it was our final year of consistent STEM programming funding.

Reviving Our STEM-Based Programming

In 2021, we tried hosting a few virtual STEM workshops here and there, but with no specific funds for STEM-based programming, and the hesitation to return to in-person programming, they were not as successful as we’d hoped. We did not feel at that time that we had the base of participants or the capacity to host a mini-con. Another year went by without one.

Prior to the pandemic, YWCA Canada had been working to secure funding to take YWCA Cambridge’s signature TechGyrls program national. Just a few short months ago, we learned that YWCA Canada was successful in their bid and that we will have the funding once again to bring the program back to Cambridge, this time, backed by our national office! We started to think of ways we could get our current participants excited for what was to come since it’s been some time since we facilitated STEM-based programming (and many past participants have since aged out!). We landed on reviving STEM Mini-Con and using it as a launch pad for the return of TechGyrls. 

It’s been a slow process, reengaging tech companies, and this isn’t surprising. We’re all still easing back into normalcy. So, we changed the format. Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada and Vidyard stepped up to the plate, but rather than putting an entire day of facilitating on their shoulders, we changed the event from an open-house style event, to a pre-registered workshop-style event. Within a few days, registration filled up. 

At Vidyard, we love being able to participate in programming that helps to inspire, challenge and encourage youth to see all the potential educational and career paths available to them. We believe strongly in getting young people exposed to the different possibilities within STEM and ensuring that they feel like they have a place in that field if they choose to pursue it. The programming at the YWCA Cambridge (The W) creates a space that is inclusive and supportive, while working to get youth interested and inspired for their future."

Two participants watch as a woman from Toyota demonstrates an activity
Group of women in red shirts standing together in front of banners

Toyota and Vidyard have always participated in previous mini-cons, so I expected they’d be their usual fantastic selves. But let me tell you, they exceeded expectations! 

STEM MiniCon Partners Exceeding Our Hopes

Toyota brought an entire team of incredible women and transformed our program space into multiple challenge stations, each set up with an activity related to the various departments they work in. Not only did they bring accessible, carefully thought out activities, but they also brought items for youth to make their own swag bags! Their activities inspired valuable bonding opportunities in the group – many of the participants even took to creating competitions with one another all in good fun!

Vidyard joined us with a fun storyboarding activity. Laura Flatt, Vidyard’s Community Engagement Program Manager, really got the youth reflecting, connecting with what was important to them and using their planning skills to develop video concepts to describe “how-to” do something. Youth created storyboards on everything from how to play volleyball to describing cultural celebrations such as Eid. Laura took great interest in each and every participant’s storyboard idea and had words of encouragement for everyone.

This triumphant return of our STEM Mini-Con was such a meaningful day, not only because it was our first one in two years, but because fantastic folks came to inspire and challenge girls and gender diverse youth, prepared with thoroughly planned activities. 

We are grateful to Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada and Vidyard for seeing the importance of organizations and events like ours, as well as the value of providing youth with connections to local businesses Most importantly, we’re grateful to companies like them who value celebrating women leading the way in STEM-based careers.

Stay tuned for more information on TechGyrls and other STEM-based programming at The W!

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