Great Idea: Science Rendezvous: “Where People and Science Meet!”

For both young and old alike, learning becomes irresistible when it is presented as an engaging hands-on endeavor. This is exactly what Science Rendezvous imagines for Canadian participants in their nationwide celebration of the sciences. Science Rendezvous invites top scientists into the mix, and provides the opportunity to discuss with them cutting edge science, technology, and engineering. These dedicated scientists can be observed up close and personal working in their laboratories on the real challenges confronting humanity today in health care, the environment, and manufacturing. Opportunities to discuss the science involved are made available to the public. Interactive displays feature the wonder of science and engage the participants. For students considering a field of study, or simply drifting through their high school years, this combination is irresistible.

In May of 2018 tens of thousands of people across Canada at universities and community centres will participate in a celebration of STEM: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The goal is for people and scientists to meet in a creative, exciting, and interactive setting where curiosity and the desire to learn are sparked and the work of various scientists is showcased. Many individuals both in and outside the classroom contribute to a student’s education, and this is especially true of an event such as Science Rendezvous where both displays and the work of engaged scientists are made accessible. There is a faulty assumption at large that students make their major career choices in high school, when the reality is that the choice whether or not to pursue studies in STEM is largely made by the end of grade 8. Due mostly to the lack of information of what a career in STEM might offer middle school youth are opting out of a wealth of opportunity for their future.

Science Rendezvous began its joint program between the University of Toronto, York University, Ryerson University, and the Ontario Institute of Technology in 2008. Their goal was to launch an event of such scale, content, and quality as to engage the general public, and in particular, the youth to the wonder of science and engineering. Since that year, Science Rendezvous has managed to include 40 of Canada’s top research institutions. They have also developed over 85 community partnerships in 10 provinces and 2 territories in this yearly event. Today it has grown to be the single largest science festival in Canada. It offers thousands of hands-in experiments and direct engagement with 6,000 of Canada’s top researchers and scientists at 300 simultaneous events across the land.

In 2017 the organization celebrated Canada’s 150th anniversary by hosting the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council’s Innovation Showcase at festivals across the country. A time travel journey into Canada’s history was created in exhibits showcasing the country’s research innovations and achievements in STEM. At the University of Toronto pavilions lined St. George Street with over 100 demonstrations and experiments which included robots, solar cars, and math tricks. Participants could extract DNA, meet zebrafish, build arches, and identify earth’s minerals. The theme was to discover and take pride in Canada’s rich scientific heritage.

Science Rendezvous is part of a concerted campaign among scientists and engineers to change societal attitudes towards engineering, mathematics, and science. The goal is also to demonstrate what can be achieved when industry leaders collaborate with the best Canadian researchers. The sciences have so much more to offer than what is often the public’s perception of researchers and research: Nerdy men is sterile white coats laboring over dry and dull material.  Changing this perception is crucial to the future of Canada, if we want to become a global leader and remain competitive and productive. Our youth need to become excited about the possibility of choosing a field of study in STEM.

There is no doubt that STEM educated graduates will impact Canada’s job market and economy. The following facts both clarify this and serve as a caution. By the end of high school the majority of Canadian students take no science at all. Of the top 15 highest-in-demand careers, almost all require a STEM education. These include health care professionals, engineers, scientists, and technicians. Job growth is predicted in the skilled trades where an education in STEM is necessary. The future projections are that 75% of the jobs in the next 10 years will be high-skill. These are good reasons to hold a yearly festival where presenters and their displays can spark the interest and imaginations of both youth and their mentors in STEM subjects. Hopefully the many educators and role models in each student’s life will advocate for the wide range of possibilities that would be opened through a career in science and engineering.

Science Rendezvous’ mission is to increase both the scientific literacy of the public and promote a general awareness of the vital role that science plays in everyday life. The events held across Canada are meant to engage and educate the public on the importance of science and engineering stressing how these disciplines impact their lives, standard of living, and global competitiveness. The open lab concept was spearheaded by the organization in order to bring world class scientists and the general public together. These personal interactions along with the hands-on experiments, interactive lab tours, and fascinating demonstrations all serve to ignite the interest and passion of the participants.

Science Rendezvous also opens the doors to Canada’s science infrastructure and, in so doing, allows the public unprecedented access to state of the art research facilities. A behind the scenes look into the careers of engineers and scientists is meant to encourage youth to pursue their educational path in STEM. Science is important to our collective future and, in light of climate change, vital to the conservation of our planet. Yet the science literacy rate within the general public has decreased, and unfortunately, there is little interest among youth in these disciplines.

The beauty of a science focused day is that it makes science fun for all and contributes to the public awareness and appreciation of the wonder of science, engineering, and technology. Science Rendezvous works with Canada’s top research institutes in order to present this coast to coast open house and festival that is free to everyone. In so doing they have created a unique and irreplaceable celebration where science and people can meet.

Check out event videos on their Facebook page:

By: Alison Zenisek

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