Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics are the focus of MindFuel’s programming which aims to inspire youth to get involved in, be inspired by and innovate in the world of STEM. We recently spoke with MindFuel CEO Cassy Weber to find out more about the organization and how our readers can get involved.
Describe your charity/non-profit in a few sentences.
For 32 years, MindFuel has been inspiring minds and changing futures through our award winning programs, which focus on youth STEM innovation. We work with industry, K-12, post-secondary and funding partners to engage youth in the world of innovation, design thinking, and real-world problem solving, with a focus on robotics, AI, nanotechnology, synthetic biology, and computational solutioning. Regionally, we’ve worked with over 5,000 students in the last five years to develop, what we call, an innovation mindset. Nationally, we reached hundreds of thousands of students and teachers annually with several of our online learning platforms focused on engaging students in immersive STEM learning.
What problem does it aim to solve?
MindFuel’s programs support making a difference in “Canada’s Innovation Challenge”. Though Canada is ranked as the most educated country in the world (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), our nation is only 17th out of 129 in terms of innovation (Global Innovation Index 2019). MindFuel recognizes that digital and STEM education must be coupled with an innovation mindset in order to ensure a steady ‘pipeline’ of skilled, capable workers to drive our industries. Since 1990, we’ve invested over $100M+ in youth innovation development across Canada.
When did you start/join it?
What made you want to get involved?
Prior to joining in 2012, I worked in the for-profit tech sector in many startup companies and had the great pleasure of working with talented and passionate colleagues who were committed to developing innovations. In 2012, my children were at the early stages of their K-12 journey, and I became deeply immersed in understanding how children learn, fascinated by the complex process in which children begin to make meaning of their world. Extrapolating from my own experiences in the tech/innovation sector, it occurred to me that “innovation doesn’t just happen”. Rather, it results from a context where a problem is identified, and the desire for change, coupled with the right mindset, leads to an innovative production. And furthermore, the right time/place/space to begin the innovation mindset development is in the K-12 population. Given that innovation will be a critical factor in achieving a durable, inclusive and diversified economic recovery for Canada, our work has never been more important than the present moment.
What was the situation like when you started?
The organization was established in the late 1980s by James (Jim) Gray, in partnership with the Government of Alberta, under Premier Getty, with the mandate of serving all of Alberta as a “science-centre-without-walls”. At that time, Alberta’s students were at the lowest levels in Canada from a science performance perspective and the organization focused on working with the government, school districts, and teachers to develop resources and tools which would increase science literacy. In 1990, the organization became a registered charity and over the years has accomplished a great amount by collaborating with partners throughout the province. Under the leadership of Anne Tingle, and then Arlene Ponting, the organization introduced critically relevant programs and became a ‘must have’ partner to many provincial government ministries.
How has it changed since?
My focus over the last 8 years has been to shift the organizational mandate to STEM innovation, moving from regionally focused programs to national based on our national digital footprint, and launching skills-development programs such as coding and digital literacy, design thinking and innovation workshops. I have an amazing team, and through their dedication and passion, we’ve accomplished a lot in terms of reach and impact across the country. Generally speaking, eight years ago very few people and community collaborators used ‘innovation’ in their day to day program descriptions and language, but now, innovation is top of mind – regionally, nationally, and internationally. In this respect there has been a great awakening regarding the importance of innovation and overall national economic health.
What more needs to be done?
We are on a mission to supplement Canada’s workforce with skilled, educated workers capable of thinking critically and solving problems using innovation. We have been working with K-12 educators, post-secondary institutions, policy makers, other non-profits and youth to unpack what makes a successful “innovation ecosystem” and what steps we can take to build one. K-12 and post-secondary education have been highlighted as a priority for developing innovative mindsets because such as mindset is driven by creativity, accessibility, collaboration and critical thinking – all elements that can be addressed through both classroom and ‘out-of-classroom’ learning. We also know that diversity and inclusion are critical to ensuring a well-rounded innovation ecosystem that provides equal opportunity to all.
The call to action is clear: investments into innovation mindset development in youth is critical and so too is program development in support of equity, diversity and inclusion practices. These areas of continued focus federally, provincially and locally will ensure the youth innovation pipeline is full – which is critical to post-secondaries and industry.
How can our readers help?
First and foremost, get involved! Contact MindFuel – firstname.lastname@example.org – to find out how you can help us in our mission. If you have school-aged children, give them a headstart in their STEM education through our learning products. Many of these are online, an especially important aspect considering many students are required to learn from home right now in our province. Want to place an emphasis on education through your charitable giving? Donations to MindFuel help our organization continue to bridge gaps in access to education, target underrepresented student demographics in STEM programming, and more.
Do you have any events coming up?
Due to COVID, MindFuel has no planned upcoming face-to-face events , but we are always looking for new opportunities to connect with students, teachers and parents, and work with industry partners.
Where can we follow you?
PAY IT FORWARD: What is an awesome local charity that you love?
There are many but certainly the Calgary Humane Society has served a critically important role locally for decades.