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July 15, 2022

Six people wearing name tags stand together indoors in front of a poster on a wall titled “ClimAct.”

Two dozen co-op students impressed a diverse audience when they presented their progress in working with community partners on solutions to real-life challenges, during the first networking event held by the INSPIRE program.

INSPIRE – which provides co-op opportunities to STEM students from historically underrepresented groups – launched earlier this year under the leadership of Daniela Damian, the Dean’s Special Advisor on Inclusive STEM in the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science.

The program’s first cohort of 24 first- and -second year UVic students are working in small teams on projects identified within the Victoria community, with guidance from both local industry mentors, graduate students, and global industry professionals.

Six student groups – called Apprentice Garage teams – described their progress and experiences to an audience of about 130 people, comprised of UVic STEM students, local high school teachers and students, industry professionals, and academic leaders.

“There was a lot of energy in the room, where high-school students, alongside local industry and non-profit organizations interacted with and listened to the INSPIRE students’ journey in tackling difficult, open-ended problems in our communities,” said Damian, who is a professor in UVic Computer Science.

First cohort began work in May

The students who make up the INSPIRE Apprentice Garage teams represent diverse genders, ethnic backgrounds, and represent areas of study such as engineering, computer science, science and social sciences. Since May, they have been working on a variety of high-impact community challenges, which range from regional climate change vulnerabilities, to lack of resources surrounding vulnerable communities in Victoria, to protecting local nature sanctuaries. 

The students have been mentored by 25 industry professionals, from local and global partnering organizations located in Victoria, Vancouver, Toronto, New York, Brazil, China and Pakistan. Along with mentors, each team is assigned an experienced student – called a Garage Ambassador – who INSPIRE hires part-time to provide additional support.

In brief, the community projects they work on include (more on the INSPIRE website):

  • Resilient Urban Systems & Habitat (RUSH): the project develops an interactive landing webpage that reports regional climate change vulnerabilities, allowing communities to make decisions on changes that must be made.
  • Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness (GVCEH): the team working on this project is working on a way for women+, who are at risk of violence and homelessness, to learn about the community resources available to them.
  • Swan Lake and Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary (Swan Lake): the project develops a monitoring system to help conserve and protect water and land by tracking visitor data anonymously.
  • Victoria Brain Injury Society (VBIS): the students are working on a functional mobile device application to direct clients to appropriate resources to help mitigate current ABI (Acquired Brain Injury) symptoms and provide VBIS’s information and programs.
  • Carbon Impact of Web Browsing Project (CIWB): the intention of this project is to accurately calculate the carbon impact of web browsing and make this available to users as well as business.
  • ClimAct: this project focuses on engaging teens through an app that calculates their carbon footprint and uses features such as points, rewards and a leaderboard to encourage engagement and climate change action.

Sponsors provide critical support

INSPIRE’s sponsors and partner companies include: IBM Canada Advanced Studies; Redbrick; Riipen; Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria; Actua; Viatec; McElhanney; Checkfront; Axolotl; Animikii; Ocean Networks Canada; PBX Engineering; WSP; and Island Women in Science and Technology.

The networking event, which took place at UVic, featured two keynote speakers: Mina Hoorfar, the dean of UVic Engineering and Computer Science, and Wendy Chong of IBM TJ Watson Labs in New York, who both related their personal experiences to that of the Apprentice Garage teams.

The event also included: discussions about the IBM methodologies used in the program; five-minute pitches by each team going over specific project progress and details; a poster presentation, in which the Apprentice Garage teams answered questions about their projects; and a fish-bowl style panel discussion, in which industry professionals and program mentors were able to directly interact with students.

INSPIRE looks forward to showcasing the final project outcomes from its first-ever cohort during a conference in September. For more project details, partners, other INSPIRE activities and news, please visit www.inspireuvic.org.

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