L’Oréal Canada is a proud sponsor of Actua’s National Girls Program. A key component of this partnership is Actua’s placement of fellowship winners of the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Program as mentors at girls’ clubs and camps. The following story demonstrates how one fellowship winner took her mentoring to the next level and inspired youth at two of Actua’s camps in Nunavut.
L’Oréal mentor Jessica Selinger, an SFU graduate student and 2011 L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowship winner has been amazing girls with the knowledge that they can use their bodies as renewable power sources using energy harvesting technologies. Through the delivery of many successful mentor events at Science AL!VE Girls Club, a member of Actua located at Simon Fraser University, Jessica eagerly signed on to deliver two weeks of Actua’s CIHR health camps this summer at Nunavut Arctic Campus locations in Rankin Inlet and Iqaluit, Nunavut.
For Jessica, the opportunity to bring her research to the North was not only a way of reaching youth with limited exposure to careers in the fields of science and technology, but it was also a way to connect on a much more personal level than the hour-long mentor events typically allow. "I think by letting the kids discover commonalities in our interests and hobbies, it becomes easier for them to envision themselves as scientists one day. It's really about showing them that I'm not so different from them."
Campers were introduced to several activities that demonstrated how electrical activity is generated through the use of their muscles. The muscle activity was measured using the technology of an Electromyography (EMG) and campers received a print out of their own muscle activities. Choosing which muscle to measure proved entertaining for the youth and most chose to measure the motions of their arms or legs, but one camper chose to measure the muscle activity of her smile. “She is the first person to control the resistance of the brace using her emotions!” Jessica recalls.
During another activity highlighting electricity and energy harvesting, campers minds ran on pure creativity as they were asked to design and build a small generator that would capture energy from anything in their environment they could think of that moves. Designs included caribou and whales to more sophisticated mechanisms, like a beating heart. The idea of capturing energy from a beating heart is a new idea discussed in recent scientific literature, yet the imagination of an inspired youth made the same connection.
Opening the doors to allow the minds of youth to absorb what they’re learning and translate that into their own inquiries and begin exploring and making connections to the science in the world around them is exactly what Actua and L’Oréal’s mentorship programs seek to achieve.
Jessica remembers not being sure about what a scientist really did until she was into her university years, a phenomenon she feels many youth experience, particularly those from families that aren’t in academic fields. Jessica sees mentoring as a way to expose youths to the science in their everyday lives early on; “As a graduate student, I think I have a unique opportunity to change this, to try to make science and the numerous doors it can open more tangible to young students.”
L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women and Science Fellowship winners are an excellent inspiration to girls across Canada and L’Oréal is pleased to work with Actua to facilitate their placement as mentors in Actua programs. Actua supports a national network of 33 member organizations located at universities and colleges that deliver STEM education outreach programming for youth. Each year Actua inspires over 225,000 youth in 500 communities nationwide.