Ontario’s plan for STEM is vague but encouraging

Re: “Provincial policy aims to increase number of STEM grads“

Ontario’s plan for STEM is vague but encouraging

The choice to invest heavily in locally educated science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees is plainly and unequivocally a good one. As evidenced by the recent investment by Google into the Waterfront and Toronto’s optimistic bid to house Amazon’s Canadian headquarters, it is clear that the tech industry is booming in Ontario. Likewise, it is in the logistical and economic benefit of everyone involved that the accompanying jobs and opportunities be filled with Ontario-educated talent.

However, attempting to become North America’s number one producer of postsecondary STEM graduates per capita is no easy feat. While I am cautiously optimistic, the vague nature of the government’s announcement that it intends to do just that raises questions as to how exactly Ontario will achieve this bold vision. With big talking points like increasing STEM graduates by 25 per cent over the next five years, the only concrete policy on the matter so far appears to be a $30 million investment into creating applied master’s degrees in artificial intelligence. It remains to be seen precisely how the province will promote other areas in the STEM fields.

Regardless, the announcement is a breath of fresh air for scientists in Ontario. With Canada still feeling the effects of the Harper administration’s ‘war on science’ and the concerning anti-intellectual and anti-scientific rhetoric south of the border, Ontario is taking a stand in the name of progress and innovation. Combined with governmental promises to look into the Naylor Report and the potential reversal of American-Canadian ‘brain drain,’ the future is looking bright.

 

Spencer Y. Ki is a second-year student at Victoria College studying Astrophysics and Mathematics.

Provincial policy aims to increase number of STEM grads

University currently in talks with province over way forward

Provincial policy aims to increase number of STEM grads

The Ontario government has recently announced a new initiative to increase the number of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) graduates in the province over the next five years. The project is part of a push to make the province an industry leader in the STEM fields. U of T is currently in talks with the province to see how it will be affected.

The plan is to increase the number of post-secondary STEM graduates “by 25 per cent over the next five years – boosting the number of STEM graduates from 40,000 to 50,000 per year,” according to Tanya Blazina, who works in the Ontario Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development.

“This major commitment will significantly expand the talent pool of well-trained and highly educated workers in Ontario,” Blazina said. “These workers will empower Ontario-based businesses to grow into global players, while also attracting successful and innovative businesses to the province.”

Blazina says that as of Fall 2017, all publicly funded Ontario universities and colleges will have signed an agreement on program plans and funded enrolment levels. Universities will also have signed an agreement concerning funded graduate spaces.

This initiative comes amidst a major expansion project by American tech giant Amazon. The company announced earlier this year that it was planning on building a second headquarters in North America, which Toronto has expressed major interest in.

U of T Vice-President and Provost Cheryl Regehr told The Varsity that the university is “looking for more information and to try and understand what exactly the money will go to.” Regehr says they expect that it will go to additional student spots, in particular a possible student spot in professional master’s programs.

“U of T is already incredibly strong. We are a world leader in many areas and STEM is one of the ones that we’re a world leader,” she said. “We expect that we’ll just continue to be a world leader and increase our research and educational initiatives in this area.”

In order to make the province more attractive to tech companies, the government is hoping specifically to increase graduates is in the field of artificial intelligence (AI). To achieve this, $30 million will be invested to increase the “number of professional applied masters’ graduates in artificial intelligence,” according to a press release.

“Ontario will also partner with the Vector Institute to accelerate growth in the number of professional applied masters’ graduates in artificial intelligence. The goal is to graduate 1,000 applied masters students in AI-related fields per year, within five years.”

Vector Institute is a Toronto-based AI research organization affiliated with U of T. It was founded earlier this year in order to be Canada’s AI hub and to attract top talent from around the world.

Women get WISE at annual conference

U of T WISE 2016 National Conference proves to be a great opportunity for students to connect with professionals

Women get WISE at annual conference

U of T Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) hosted its annual national conference at the Toronto region board of trade last weekend. The conference brought together industry experts and approximately 250 student attendees for on opportunity to participate and connect with professionals.

Jaquelyn Monis, the conference chair of WISE 2016 explained that their objective was not only to provide professional development, but also to connect students with companies hiring for summer internships. 

“This year we have 15 different companies, compare[d] to two or three in the past years” said Monis in reference to industry attendance at the event.

The 2016 WISE Conference featured keynote speaker Jacqueline Shan, founder of Afinity Life Sciences, who spoke during the opening ceremony.

Shan opened by sharing her experience as an international student who struggled with English as a second language, and how she overcame barriers and prosper as an entrepreneur and scientist.

She delivered a powerful speech, promoting persistence and perseverance in her pursuit of success.

“It’s simple, but often hard to do. It’s hard to believe in yourself, believe in your dream when you’re laying off your co-workers,” Shan added. 

In addition to providing networking opportunities for students, the WISE conference also featured a group of panelists, including Cathy Tie, co-founder and CEO of Ranomics.

Cathy was a first-year life sciences student at U of T when she received venture capital funding in 2015 for her project. She spoke to attendees about what she learned from the experience and why it’s so important to have self confidence in order to move forward.

“Even though it’s a chapter of women in science and engineering, one of our messages is to [be] inclusive of everybody and to showcase that it’s possible to get far regardless of gender,” said Monis. 

As a fourth-year student, Monis expressed excitement to hear from the speakers on their diverse experiences.   

On its second day, the WISE conference closed its doors following the announcement of the winners of their poster and case competitions.

The WISE 2016 National Conference Poster Competition, sponsored by General Electric, gave students an opportunity to present their research to judges for the chance to win a $1000 cash prize. Sahil Gupta, graduate student at the U of T’s  Institute of Medical Sciences, was announced as the winner for his research in Heat Shock Protein 90 (HSP90) in relation to sepsis and experimental inflammation. 

Amada Persaud, Eashita Ratwani, Nadia Khan, and Shawna Wei were the winners of the case competition, earning the $1000 prize and an interview opportunity for a position at Tata Consultancy Services, another of the competition’s corporate sponsors.

Throughout the school year, WISE at U of T is also involved in other initiatives such as providing opportunites for professional development, mentorships, high school, as well as community outreach. With initiatives like its annual conference, WISE continues to try to improve the state of women in science and engineering.