Sept. 9, 2019

Schulich Ignite's mission to inspire future engineers gets funding boost

Federal CanCode grant bolsters computer and software engineering workshop program for high school students

The mission is to spark a passion for the possibilities of engineering, and for Cynthia Tang, Schulich Ignite did exactly that.

Now a third-year Civil Engineering student specializing in Energy & Environment, Tang looks back her visit to the university as a Grade 12 student, where she found herself immersed in the world of computer and software engineering, while learning the basics of programming.

“From being a mentee of the Schulich Ignite Program when I was in Grade 12, I had the opportunity to learn programming for the very first time and gain exposure to what university engineering courses would be like,” recalls Tang, who also serves as the VP Academic for the Civil Engineering Undergraduate Society.

“Throughout the program, I experienced a large amount of support and encouragement from Dr. (Mohammad) Moshirpour and several upper year engineering students.”

New funding keeps Ignite glowing

For curious high schoolers following in Tang’s footsteps, a recent funding announcement from the federal government’s $60-million CanCode program is welcome news. Schulich Ignite is set to benefit from this new funding, as one of the ten partners with MindFuel (Science Alberta Foundation), which was awarded $2 million over two years from CanCode.

Part of the Department of Innovation Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED), CanCode’s mandate is to promote Canadian access to the digital world by providing skills and tools required to operate in a digital economy. That includes community and institutional projects aimed at empowering youth in key areas like coding, data analytics, and other critical digital concepts.

This funding supports MindFuel’s effort to reach groups that are traditionally underrepresented in STEM fields – including girls, Indigenous youth, and youth residing in rural and remote areas, including northern Canada.

Inspiring the next generation

Tang says her time with Ignite inspired her, and filled her with confidence to succeed – and now she’s on the other side, mentoring the next flock of engineering students.

“Engineering was already the path I wanted to take in high school, but finishing the Ignite program sparked a much stronger confidence in me as I entered university, leading me to truly enjoy and excel in my future coding courses and AI research,” she explains.

“Later on, I was also invited to become a mentor in the Schulich Ignite Program, where I had the opportunity to pass on the support and encouragement I previously received to a younger generation.”

Sparking an interest in high-tech careers

Dr. Laleh Behjat, PhD, and Dr. Mohammad Moshirpour, PhD, spearheaded the initiative at Schulich, which includes free coding workshops offered on evenings during the week and on select Saturday afternoons.

“The Schulich Ignite initiative allows us to introduce the joy of programming to students before they enter university and spark their interest in tech-related careers such as software engineering,” says Moshirpour.

“By exposing youths to this type of learning environment earlier than post-secondary school, we can cultivate a life-long appreciation for and understanding of how and why these technologies impact our everyday lives – and, more importantly, how to harness these tools for broader positive societal change.”

Reaching out to underrepresented groups

Both Behjat and Moshirpour place a high value on new perspectives and believe that by looking beyond the typical and focusing on the unconventional, solutions to problems previously considered unsolvable can be unearthed.

“A big part of this program is reaching out to underrepresented groups within secondary schools,” explains Behjat.

“We know that we need a diverse set of minds working together when it comes to solving the world’s problems. By reaching out to a broad group and welcoming them into the field, we can create shared, equitable solutions to these overarching issues.”

Part of a diverse future in STEM

Masooma Tahir, a third-year student in the faculty’s mechanical engineering department and volunteer for Schulich Ignite, believes that the program allows mentoring students the opportunity to develop additional skills on their own terms while also helping participants prepare for the transition from high school to university.

“It’s a really good opportunity for students to learn at their own pace.  It allows students to grow in an interactive environment, make new friends and develop the skills that will help them during their transition from high school to university. And, most importantly, the program is allowing us to be part of building a more diverse future in STEM.”