Two former participants have come full circle in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science’s Girl Quest program.
Since 2012 the program has encouraged curiosity and fuelled a fascination for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects for more than 550 young students.
Thanks to generous support from the Hibernia Management and Development Company Ltd. (HMDC), the last decade has seen “Questers” engage in hands-on activities, meet real engineers and scientists and perform experiments.
A STEM-focused week of educational adventure for youth in Grades 3-6 is, for some, the start of a journey that continues long past the summer day camp experience — setting them on a path that shapes their academic and professional futures.
Seeing = understanding
“It’s really hard to explain to a 10-year-old what an engineer is, what an engineer does or what the difference is between a process engineer and an electrical engineer. So, you’ve got to show it to them instead,” said Emily Pike, former Girl Quest participant turned counsellor.
The first-year student in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science says she was excited for the opportunity to participate in the Girl Quest program as a counsellor this past summer.
She recalls her own Girl Quest experience with ozobots — tiny robots that follow coded instructions — as just one example of the program’s many activities that help turn abstract concepts into concrete understanding.
For budding scientists and engineers, Ms. Pike says that tangible learning experience is key.
“I remember being eight years old in Girl Quest, going to the structures lab with the popsicle stick bridges and the instructor explained how you need to make it withstand as much pressure as possible. But when you watch your bridge break in front of you, it all makes so much more sense. I found that was a really inspirational moment for me.”
For Ms. Pike, the step from quester to counsellor helped solidify her academic path.
“We need to teach them that they can do the hard things.”
As a counsellor, she works to inspire and empower young minds by showing them that engineering is accessible and dispelling the long-standing myth and inherent bias that engineering work is gender-specific.
“This past summer, whenever the girls said something was really difficult or they didn’t know if they could do it, I would say, ‘yes, it is difficult, but that’s why you should do it.’ We need to teach them that they can do the hard things.”
Be what you want to see in the world
Alex Skinner, another Quester turned counsellor, is also playing a pivotal role in reshaping the STEM narrative.
His journey, similar to Ms. Pike’s, highlights the importance of representation and visibility.
“You have to have these people that push the barriers. You have to do and be what you want to see in the world, because without you doing that, there’s going to be nobody. Somebody has to take the first step.”
Mr. Skinner took that first step – and several more – by returning to the Girl Quest program as a counsellor and entering his second year of engineering at Memorial.
As a counsellor, Mr. Skinner aspires to be a role model and provide representation, particularly for LGBTQ youth, conveying the powerful message that STEM is open to everyone regardless of identity.
“I introduce myself to youth with my pronouns. Hopefully, down the road, they’ll say, ‘Oh, because I saw this person, I feel more comfortable being myself.’ It makes me really happy to have that impact on their lives.”
Unleashing potential through generosity
Both students’ transformative journeys illustrate the profound effect of HMDC’s longstanding commitment to Memorial University and its long-term vision for Girl Quest.
Their stories embody the program’s potential, emphasizing the significance of representation for young girls and LGBTQ+ youth in STEM.
“Their passion and dedication are a testament to the power of investing in STEM education and mentorship.”
They also highlight the importance of providing youth with opportunities to explore a world that has traditionally been less open to many young girls.
“Inspiring the next generation of STEM enthusiasts is a focus for HMDC,” said Stephen Edwards, president, HMDC. “We are thrilled to witness the impact of our support through the remarkable journeys of Alex Skinner and Emily Pike. Their passion and dedication are a testament to the power of investing in STEM education and mentorship.”
Kathyrn Hong is the co-ordinator for Girl Quest and outreach activities at the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science.
She says it has been gratifying to witness Mr. Skinner and Ms. Pike move closer to realizing their potential.
“It’s incredibly rewarding for me to see these determined young individuals thrive throughout this journey. I feel privileged to co-ordinate Girl Quest and several other programs that nurture the development of youth in our province,” she said.
When it comes to the next wave of young engineers-in-the-making, Mr. Skinner advises: “If you think ‘maybe I want to do it; maybe this is something for me,’ do it! If somebody tells you that you can’t do it, just say, ‘Well, I want to, so, your opinion doesn’t really matter to me.'”
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