Why is it important to engage youth in engineering?

Faculty of Engineering
Youth in lab
Traditional STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) teaching methods sometimes create barriers for elementary and high school students. Participation in activities from a young age can help students overcome them.

This article was originally published in March 2022.

Engineering outreach programs are becoming more and more popular in Canada and around the world. These programs, typically run by universities or other teaching institutions, offer workshops and activities for youth in elementary and high school.  

At the University of Ottawa, our first activities of this type go back to 1991, when 60 youth took part in the very first Adventures in Engineering summer camp. Today, more than 30 years later, over 43,000 youth a year register for the Engineering Outreach Office’s workshops, events and camps.  

But just why is it important to introduce youth to STEM?

Advanced science and math courses in grades 11 and 12 are widely seen as complex and difficult, which discourages many high school students from taking them. It should be said the traditional teaching methods usually emphasize theory rather than practical application.  

By encouraging experiential learning, Faculty of Engineering STEM programs offer a different way of exploring these disciplines, often aimed at addressing a very specific problem. This is the case, for example, in the Technological Design course, where students design prototypes using 3D printers or microcontrollers. 

Exploring job prospects 

As well, high school students taking traditional science and math courses may find it hard to see the career prospects after they complete a university program.  

As they involve contact with new STEM graduates, some outreach activities provide a window on a range of careers in STEM-related fields including robotics, artificial intelligence, the environment, aerospace and data science.  

For example, uOttawa’s Engineering Outreach Office organizes enrichment programs where high school students discover a different potential STEM career every week. With a concrete goal in mind, youth can find the motivation to persevere in their traditional science and math courses.

Reaching out to underrepresented groups

Another goal of engineering outreach programs is to make up for the serious lack of diversity in the STEM professions. According to Engineers Canada, only 20% of new admissions each year are women, and the percentage of Blacks, Indigenous people or persons with disability is even lower. Engineering shapes our world and our future. For both to be inclusive, it’s essential that diverse perspectives be reflected in the profession.

Engineering outreach programs create opportunities for those underrepresented in the field. For example, the Digital Technology and Innovations in the Changing World course invites girls from grades 8 to 11 to develop a mobile app as part of the world’s largest technology entrepreneurship competition, Technovation. As well, participants receive a high school course credit (in Ontario). This in itself can encourage them to pursue a career in STEM. 

Julie Olivier

“Youth must be able to see themselves as future innovators.”

Julie Olivier

— Engineering Outreach Office Manager, uOttawa

Not just for future scientists

Even for youth who plan to get into a different field, there are advantages to taking part in engineering outreach programs. The skills they develop, such as creative thinking and problem-solving, help them better understand the world around them. “The many global challenges we’re facing, such as climate change, require innovative engineering solutions,” says Julie Olivier, manager of the Engineering Outreach Office. “The fresh look and imaginative approaches of youth will help find ideas and solutions for urgent problems society is facing. Youth must be able to see themselves as future innovators. That’s why introducing them to STEM as young as possible is essential.” 

Want to register your child in an Engineering Outreach program? 

Learn more about our workshops, events and clubs.

About the Faculty of Engineering Secondary School

The Faculty of Engineering Secondary School at the University of Ottawa offers high school students the opportunity to take courses while gaining credits toward their Ontario secondary school diploma. All courses offered follow the Ontario curriculum guidelines while engaging students in hands-on learning opportunities in technological design or computer science. Learn more or to enroll a student in one of our high school courses.