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Connecting youth with science

BY SAMANTHA FEX | MAR 10 2008

Blending up fast food meals to find their fat content, programming a miniature remote-controlled Mars rover, making digital video programs – these are but a few of the activities that take place in the hundreds of science and technology programs sponsored by the national charity Actua and delivered by its 29 university and college partners.

The goal of Actua is to raise the level of science literacy among Canadian youth, particularly within groups that are underprivileged or traditionally under-represented in science – specifically aboriginal and at-risk youth, and girls. Nearly a quarter-million kids participated last year in Actua-sponsored summer camps, classroom workshops or other outreach activities.

And youth are not the only ones who benefit, says Leslie Cuthbertson, Actua’s director of partnerships and communications. Many of the programs are run by undergraduate students, who “are gaining valuable leadership and project management skills that will carry them forward in their careers.”

Undergrads make excellent instructors because they are at a perfect age for youth to look up to them, she adds. “They are acting as amazing role models to these kids and helping them to imagine futures for themselves,” she says. They are “getting kids excited about how science and technology affects their daily lives, as well as exposing them to the multitude of careers and opportunities that are there for them.”

Actua provides some direct funding for programs, but what it mainly offers is training and administrative support. The charity receives about $1.5 million a year from corporate sponsors, government and a handful of foundations.

Ms. Cuthbertson says Actua is always on the lookout for additional university partners. “We want to build on the momentum. We do need the support of the institutions in order to make these programs happen.”

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