The Ajax-Pickering, Ontario branch of the Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) launches a community outreach initiative to bring hands-on science enrichment to Durham Region elementary classrooms under the guidance of visiting STEM role models in collaboration with teachers. The idea received enthusiastic endorsement from the Durham District School Board. Over 1,000 students in 40 classrooms participated.
Word of mouth sparks expansion into Toronto (1997) and Guelph (1999). We become a registered charity and our reach grows exponentially to 110,000 students annually with support from donors, which include the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), TD Bank and Toyota Canada. The Erin Gladwell Memorial Fund, created by our presenters, increases opportunities for students in schools serving low-income communities. We shift from a complimentary workshop model to a social enterprise model with a subsidized user fee to support the growth, enabling us to embrace new communities and school boards in a sustainable way, while prioritizing high-quality experiences with plentiful equipment and material for the participating young scientists. A focus on sharing ideas, scientific expertise, and extension activities, in combination with professional development workshops, builds on the collaboration between scientists and teachers.
Expansion takes off in Ontario: York Region (2000), Halton Region (2002), Kawartha (2003), Peel Region (2004), Waterloo Region (2005), Niagara Region (2007), Ottawa (2009), Hamilton (2010) and County of Brant, Haldimand County, and Norfolk County (2010). Our first branch outside of Ontario launches in Lethbridge, Alberta (2010), again in collaboration with the local branch of the CFUW.
Our 5 millionth student scientist participates and a French language workshop stream is developed for Eastern Ontario (2012). In 2013, our community workshop program is launched, providing workshops to daycares, summer camps, libraries and community groups.
We celebrate 25 years of providing STEM enrichment to schools across Ontario and Alberta, and we officially launch our second Alberta branch in Calgary. Our focus on equity expands with the launch of the Adopt-a-School initiative, fully supporting schools serving under-resourced communities with complimentary workshops for every classroom. With the help of visionary partners, 33 schools are adopted, giving 17,800 children the opportunity to experience Scientists in School.
We reach our 8 millionth young scientist since 1989. Our Adopt-a-School impact almost triples to supporting 47,500 students in 88 schools serving low-income communities across Ontario and Alberta. We launch our Lift-a-School initiative, which like Adopt-a-School, supports schools serving low-income communities that are unable to afford our workshop fee, providing complimentary workshops on a one-to-one match for every workshop paid for by the school.
Having just celebrated the big milestone of reaching our 10 millionth young scientist, the COVID-19 pandemic begins and, for the first time in our history, we halt all programming between March and June 2020. Our social enterprise model is now a weakness as revenue from user-paid workshops grinds to a halt. Having spent May and June 2020 developing a virtual delivery model, by July 2020, we are ready to get back to what we do best – engaging children and youth in hands-on STEM learning. This also provides the opportunity to grow outside of established in-person service areas in Ontario and Alberta and truly begin our journey to, as our vision statement says, “engage every child in Canada in the seeing and doing and understanding of science.” 31 virtual topics – 23 classroom and 8 community – are launched, and by the end of August 2021, our presenters delivered just over 8,000 hands-on virtual workshops to 182,000 children and youth, with representation from every province. 2,500 of the workshops were complimentary and just over 10% of participants lived in communities that we had never before been able to serve, many in northern and rural communities.