ayo tech

The iCreate Project: Girls Creating STEM-Based Innovations for Community Impact

What do you get when you have a group of young girls with a nascent curiosity in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) gather in Ryerson’s Launch Zone and matched up with successful female professionals in those fields? The iCreate Project!

In the past few months, I've had the unique opportunity of being on the planning committee of this pilot project aimed at creating a space where STEM, entrepreneurship, and community engagement seamlessly intersected to empower girls of diverse ethnic backgrounds to pursue education and careers in these innovative fields.

Bright and early on August 15th, the iCreate Project brought young girls from Toronto’s priority neighbourhoods for a day full of experiential learning and mentorship. The girls took part in a series of workshops that challenged them to think of innovative solutions to community problems, build prototypes of their own inventions, and even design and launch their own rockets!

Photo by: Jelena Lazarevic, Master of Professional Communication 2015

Photo by: Jelena Lazarevic, Master of Professional Communication 2015

Intersectionality in STEM Inclusion

The fact that women are significantly underrepresented in STEM is widely acknowledged and accepted. But the intersectionality of the problem – that is, the added layer of ethnic diversity – has largely gone unrecognized in discussions around STEM inclusion. By recruiting from schools and communities in Toronto’s priority neighbourhoods with its high proportions of immigrant and visible minority residents, the iCreate Project actively tackled this issue head on.

Highlighting Community Impact

We opened the day with our Innovation Workshop that challenged the girls to consider this: “What is one problem in your neighbourhood that you want to fix?” From vandalism in playgrounds to bullying at school, from gun violence to the lack of public spaces, the girls brought serious issues to the fore.

Research of university offerings have shown that programs in STEM that focus on societal impact and not just on technical pursuits have drawn a higher proportion of women. With this model in mind, we developed the day’s curriculum to intentionally present STEM through a unique lens that highlights its potential for solving community problems.

Read more about the day on Ryerson's Centre for Urban Energy blog. 

Photo by: Jelena Lazarevic, Master of Professional Communication 2015

Photo by: Jelena Lazarevic, Master of Professional Communication 2015

MakerKids: Building the Next Generation of Inventors

Kids want to be inventors when they grow up, but why wait til then? MakerKids is making that happen for kids in and around Toronto as they spark creativity and teach the technical skills to manifest their ideas. A non-profit workshop space in Roncesvalles, Makerkids is one of the only makerspaces in the world where kids can learn about and get their hands dirty with woodworking, robotics, 3D printing, and electronics. 

I happily stumbled upon MakerKids when searching for summer camps for my nephew, Legend. He's the coolest kid I know, bursting with energy and creativity and technological know-how that never fails to impress me. I find myself scratching my head as he shows me the latest features on YouTube, his photoediting skills, or his recordings of his Minecraft sessions. He lives in a world that makes me - a twenty something Millenial that lives and breathes the online social space - feel old and outdated.

Being the nerd/tiger-aunt person that I am, I wanted to find a camp that would appeal to his strengths and interests, challenge him in a productive way, and make it fun all at the same time. Luckily, I found MakerKids' Inventors camp where they would spend the week thinking up an idea for an invention and building it all from scratch. Everyday I would pick him up from camp and he would teach me something new about Arduino, woodworking, and robotics. By the end of the week, he had built his very own life-size wolf complete with audio howling! And we're continuing the project at home before the summer ends, painting the wolf and adding little details to it to make it even more realistic.

MakerKids is such an awesome initiative that gives kids the opportunity to make what they find in their imagination a physical reality. It fills a serious void currently found in our education system; that is, a hands-on and creative experience that mixes learning and play. The kids go beyond what they would learn exclusively in textbooks, and actually explore science, technology, and engineering in a way that engages their imagination, hands, and brains. They think, design, experiment, and create...all while having fun! Who knew! 

So for all the mommies and daddies in the GTA, check out MakerKids at www.makerkids.ca.

kLab: Leading the Digital Renaissance in the Land of a Thousand Hills

Take the elevator up to the 6th floor of the Telecom House in Kigali, Rwanda and you'll not only find a stunning panoramic view of the city's endless hills, but you'll also walk right into a vibrant, open space of modernity and innovation known as kLab. While in the city, I had the distinct opportunity of writing the cover story about this up and coming tech hub and incubator for the African Business Journal. Speaking with founding member and general manager, Claude Migisha, I gained more insight into the country's burgeoning ICT industry and the various solutions local entrepreneurs are developing. "Africa will be the next birth place for innovation and the hub for world renknowned tech companies," says Migisha and it was both humbling and thrilling to see first-hand the seeds of this reality being planted at kLab. 

Read the full story at ABJ by clicking here.

Backpack to Briefcase: A Panel on Communications, PR, and Social Media

I've been busy collaborating with the Political Science department and the Career Centre at the University of Toronto to organize and moderate a panel discussion on breaking into the communications, PR, and social media industry. It's going to be a wonderful event with a stellar line up of panelists who will share their insights on success. Following the panel discussion and Q&A, light refreshments will be served and we can get our networking on!

So if you're a student or a recent graduate toying with the idea of a career in this space, register here and join us

Date: Wednesday, March 27
Time: 6- 8 p.m.
Location: Political Science Conference Room, Sidney Smith Hall (3rd floor), 100 St. George Street.


Ainka Jess is a Senior Communications Officer at the CBC in Toronto. With over a decade of communications and broadcast television experience, she was recruited to manage the communications and social media strategy for a candidate in the 2011 Ontario Provincial Elections. A woman who wears many hats, Ainka was the first producer at Sun Media to launch and produce the inaugural multicultural segment on Canoe Live. Her love of current affairs and reputation as a social media star lead her to work with TEDxToronto in 2012 as Communications Lead.

Carolyn Van 

Carolyn Van is the co-founder of thirdocean, a social media communications company as well as a mentor and advisor to various technology startups, innovation accelerators and post-secondary institutions.

Having always been an early adopter of technologies and Web 2.0 tools and platforms, Carolyn has been weaving social media in to marketing programs well before brand pages, self service ads, share functions, and the array of interactive features we see now were ever introduced. She has led the successful development and execution of digital communications, social media marketing and experiential marketing programs for brands including Scotiabank, Rogers Wireless and Drake International. 

Michael Edwards

Michael Edwards leads Navigator's digital practice and specializes in developing integrated digital strategies to achieve client objectives. He develops and executes strategies for companies and organizations that want to speak to their ideal audience through digital channels. Michael works with brands, corporations, not-for-profit organizations and political parties as a partner in identifying strategic opportunities and managing online reputations. 

As a Senior Consultant at High Road Communications, Rayanne supports the digital team in social media marketing and community management strategic counsel. Rayanne primarily works on projects with TELUS, Microsoft, and Second Harvest. Before joining the team at High Road, Rayanne was the lead for all social media, community and word of mouth marketing at FreshBooks, the number one cloud accounting specialist for small business owners. She’s also very active in the local social media community, spending her time turning online into offline relationships through attending and managing community-organized events.