Participants in STEAM Mentorship Academy work on an experiment

UTM mentorship program encourages young people to get involved with STEAM learning

Shauna Rempel

An innovative University of Toronto Mississauga program is giving the next generation of learners in Peel Region a chance to learn more about science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) while creating mentorship opportunities for UTM students.  

The S.T.E.A.M. Mentorship Academy uses a “tri-mentorship” model that sees university students mentor high schoolers, who in turn mentor children aged 9 to 11.  

“Knowledge is being exchanged on multiple levels,” says Naomi Baptiste, community youth programmer in the Centre for Student Engagement, which runs the academy in partnership with the Peel District School Board. The program builds on the success of STEAM Days and other community-based learning initiatives that the centre has run for the last decade.  

Over the course of six months, UTM student volunteers meet weekly with Erindale Secondary School students to develop, plan and execute innovative activities and workshops related to science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM). 

The program culminates in a major on-campus event, during which the high school students, guided by their UTM coaches, share their STEAM knowledge with members of the Girl Guides of Canada. The Grade 11 and 12 students accumulate volunteer hours that count toward their graduation requirement of community service.  

Group photo from 2023 STEAM Mentorship Academy final event
A group photo from the inaugural S.T.E.A.M. Mentorship Academy.

The program’s three-tiered model of community-engaged learning is unique among this type of volunteer program. “There’s nothing like it,” says Alysha Ferguson, assistant director, campus and community engagement in the Centre for Student Engagement. She did extensive research on opportunities across Ontario and the rest of Canada before launching the academy last year. “High school students are earning hours towards community service alongside a post-secondary education and giving back to the community, with youth involved.” 

The program was designed to offer a volunteer-hour opportunity that aligned with the needs and interests of students and the wider community, Ferguson adds. 

Grace Adu-Yeboah, one of the academy’s community youth program advisors who is majoring in biology at UTM, says she wishes such a program existed when she was completing her 40 high school volunteer hours.  

“I did my volunteer hours volunteering with kids but not in STEAM, which is where I end up going in university. So I actually would have appreciated a program like this when I was in high school.”  

Gurleen Kaur, a fourth-year international student from India, agrees that this is a valuable opportunity for the high schoolers. When she started at U of T, she was fascinated to learn about Ontario’s hands-on, practical community volunteer hours requirement for high schoolers. She jumped at the chance to get involved as a program advisor.  

This is the second year for the academy and Cristeidy Gonzalez, who was a work-study assistant in the inaugural version, has returned as a team lead this time around. She sees the academy as a way to give back after experiencing the benefits of being a mentee. 

“I’ve had great mentors throughout my life” says Gonzalez, who is studying neuroscience and psychology. “They’ve really had an impact on my life and the opportunities I’ve had and the things that I’ve done... I want to provide that knowledge that I’ve gained through those mentorships to the students, and also to provide my perspective and experiences that I’ve lived as both an international student and a Latin woman.” 

“I think I’ve just always enjoyed mentorship in general,” says community youth program advisor Kuichmar Phot, a fourth-year UTM student pursuing a forensic biology degree specialty and a creative writing minor. She’s also drawn on her experience as a residence don for this role. 

 “I think everyone needs a support system or someone that can help them in whatever journey they’re going to take – especially in Grades 11 and 12 when it feels like every decision you make is going to determine your future and everything is so absolute.” 

While the benefits for the younger participants are abundant, the UTM undergrads say they’ve also gained a lot from this project. In particular, they’ve learned how to manage a large-scale project, maintain a professional mindset and improve their public speaking skills.  

With the final March on-campus event, the team hopes to share their love of the endless possibilities within STEAM and provide a positive, inspiring experience that participants will cherish. 

“We hope we can give them that experience that they can carry forward with them and see STEAM as a wonderful journey,” says Kaur.  

Volunteers before an event
UTM volunteer coaches get ready for a S.T.E.A.M. Mentorship Academy event.