Canadian high school students regularly achieve world-class results in international STEM competitions. In 2015 – and again in 2016 – young Canadians won the top award (and the US$75,000 cash prize) at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), topping 1,700 students from 75 countries. Canadians have won the Sanofi International Biogenius Challenge, FIRST Robotics Competition World Championships, and numerous STEM Olympiad competitions from astronomy to mathematics. Canadians have been top 15 finalists (from over 10,000 global entries) in the Google Science Fair almost every year since it began in 2011 – and won top awards in 2013 and 2014.
Most Canadians – and particularly our youth – are completely unaware. It’s as if our world junior hockey team won and no-one noticed. That doesn’t happen because Canada has a vibrant hockey culture. Thanks to Vancouver 2010 and Own the Podium, we’re developing an Olympic culture. But we need a STEM, innovation, and entrepreneurship culture.
As in sports, a STEM culture needs heroes – rising stars that young Canadians recognize and emulate. When 16-year-old Victoria BC inventor Ann Makosinski appeared on the Jimmy Fallon Show with her hand-heat-powered flashlight – and again a year later with a cell phone charging travel mug – kids noticed. Peltier tile-powered devices – many built by girls – appeared at science fairs across Canada. Building a science and innovation culture is no different to building a hockey or Olympic culture; celebrating excellence and achievement on the national stage and in the media is an essential component.
In 2010, U.S. President Obama initiated what became an annual tradition – the White House Science Fair. Over the past six years, this event has celebrated the winners of a broad range of youth STEM and entrepreneurship competitions at what the President has called, “the most fun day of the year.”
I propose creating an annual event, hosted on Parliament Hill, to recognize Canadian winners of national and international youth STEM, innovation, and entrepreneurship competitions and other young Canadian achievers. They would be invited to share their work with the Prime Minister / Minister of Youth, Minister of Science, Key Opinion Leaders, STEM-related government officials, and most importantly, the media.
Most kids aren’t going to become professional or Olympic athletes, but wanting to inspires and motivates. Let’s celebrate Canada’s youth STEM, innovation, and entrepreneurship heroes and role models.