July 6, 2022

Minds in Motion instructors reflect on their own summer camp experiences

Year-round programs make a difference in the lives of future scientists
Children laugh at a Minds in Motion camp. University of Calgary

Althea Blais is right where she belongs.

While the third-year University of Calgary student always enjoys her civil engineering classes, Blais is taking advantage of her summer by working as an instructor for the Minds in Motion Energy Engineering Camp.

It’s an opportunity that means a lot to Blais, as she wants to inspire young future engineers.

“Most students decide in elementary if they are a ‘science person’ or not,” she says. “One bad experience can deter them from pursuing STEM completely and I want to impact students in a positive way to show them how rewarding and exciting engineering can be.”

A sense of belonging

Blais sees herself as a role model — one she wishes she'd had when she was growing up.

While always interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math), Blais admits she never thought about pursuing engineering until she went to a UCalgary open house when she was in Grade 12.

“Before that day, I didn’t really understand what engineering was,” she says. “But on a whim, I went to the Schulich School of Engineering’s faculty presentation and immediately felt like I belonged.”

The event opened her eyes and she jumped at the chance to learn more about what she soon found out was a broad field.

“It’s not just robots and wires, and I wish I knew that before,” Blais says. “Engineering allows me to work on large-scale, exciting projects and explore my creativity.”

It’s also how she discovered civil engineering, something she hadn’t heard of until about two years ago.

Lift off to a future career

Conversely, Bismarck Leung knew he wanted to get into engineering the moment he first set foot on an airplane.

“It always fascinated me how planes were able to fly and transport people around the globe,” says the second-year student. “It was then that I knew I loved math and science, and wanted to go into some field in engineering where I am able to innovate and create things that are in my mind.”

He eventually discovered a cross-disciplinary treasure trove, leading him to major in software engineering and computer science and minor in biomedical engineering.

Leung is also an instructor with Minds in Motion, after having taken part in similar summer camps while he was growing up.

“When I became older, I wanted to be a part of the experience, but as an instructor,” he says. “I want to have kids experience the same thing I did, as I really enjoyed it and remember them all to this day.”

Meaningful impact

Having students like Blais and Leung giving back to the programs for kids has been rewarding for Julia Sather.

The Minds in Motion program co-ordinator says it’s a joy to watch the campers and student staff interacting each year.

“Being able to be a part of our instructors’ journeys from being a camper to now being an instructor and mentor for their own groups of campers has been a unique and special experience for us,” says Sather, BSc’10, BEdP’13. “This cycle shows how meaningful and impactful the programs are and how, with great mentors, the youth get to discover the joy of learning about STEM and all kinds of opportunities that they can and are pursuing.”

Offered at the University of Calgary by Active Living and the Schulich School of Engineering, Minds in Motion introduces students to the many disciplines within STEM, including robotics, coding, 3D printing and paleontology.

Sather says the hope is to show the possible paths campers can take, while breaking down barriers to make them more accessible.

“We really aim to make a difference for the youth to help keep doors open for them in the STEM fields,” Sather says. “Each camper isn’t just an ‘arts’ person, a ‘science’ person or a ‘sports’ person, they can enjoy and build skills in all of these areas.”

To learn more about and sign up for a Minds in Motion camp, visit the website.