An innovative Aboriginal youth camp program, initiated by IBM Canada, is igniting interest in future engineering and science careers and, in doing so, the corporation is also generating future interest in itself.
“Our population is growing and these are (potential) future employees of the company…the hope is that they’ll remember IBM and they’ll go into these occupations and come work for us,” says Eva Stang, IBM’s Aboriginal resource management specialist (sales and distribution) in Edmonton, AB.
“A lot of the young campers don’t think of technology as a viable career and it’s just having them touch, feel and see…once they can do that, they can grasp that idea,” says Stang.
Launched as part of IBM Canada’s national Aboriginal strategy, IGNITE camps are modeled after IBM’s successful EXITE camps that encourage girls to pursue careers in technology.
The IGNITE program, however, has been modified to include both genders between the ages of 8-14. All of the challenging hands-on science and engineering activities are designed to provide Aboriginal youth an opportunity to build confidence in their technical abilities and to meet the following goals:
- To build an awareness of opportunities in engineering, computer science and technology.
- To provide an environment that facilitates learning and excitement about engineering and computer science.
- To introduce children to role models who can help mentor and encourage them to consider careers in information technology.
- To demonstrate that technology can be fun and exciting.
The camps vary in length, with programs from three days to five days long. Camp activities include creating a website, working with robotics, science trivia games and building an electronic circuit board. In 2006, 165 campers completed the program.
“It’s wonderful to see these young people get so excited, knowing it could influence their lives…IBM is, at the end of the day, about business but it is also about giving back to the community,” says Stang.
Collaborating with Industry Canada, Stang is part of an HR team at IBM that works in partnership with First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities to create initiatives like IGNITE.
“Our relationship with various Aboriginal organizations proves that corporate Canada and the community can work well together,” she says.
Partners for initiatives like IGNITE are typically non-profit charitable organizations that have pre-existing relationships in the community with a strong focus on building the strengths of Aboriginal children, youth and their families.
IBM looks to these partners for assistance with announcement of the camp, registration, transportation, volunteer group leaders and elder participation.
“The children not only gain knowledge about science and technology but they are also exposed to traditional teachers in the community,” explains Stang.
“The elder provides guidance and support to the children as they walk on their path of knowledge.”
IBM enhanced its Aboriginal diversity strategy with the hope that the Aboriginal community will see themselves as a part of the greater global economic future of Canada.
“IBM’s commitment to supporting diversity has opened many doors for individuals from many different cultures…as an Aboriginal child, I never dreamed that I could be part of such a large organization,” says Stang.