Inspiring our Canadian youth to get excited about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is critical to all of us. Our youth will be key to helping Canada succeed in a more fierce global competitive market. While we have amazing post-secondary universities and colleges I have noticed a trend over the years, even as my own children have grown up, that sciences, technology and engineering have become less attractive to many young people (see Figure6-2 here). If we are to reverse this trend and foster our next generation of innovators and technology workers we need to start working earlier to inspire our children.
With this concept in mind, last month at Cisco Connect Toronto, Cisco Canada announced a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Partners In Research and Sheridan College that will work to support teachers and help children across this country. Partners In Research is a non-profit organization that runs a program called Virtual Researcher On Call (VROC) that originated in Ontario, and is now expanding across Canada. The VROC program provides a full array of tools for teachers including podcasts, a video portal and a program called Experts on Demand that allows teachers to bring an expert into the classroom over two-way Telepresence or Video Conference technology. This allows a teacher to augment the subject they are teaching with a real-life expert.
Imagine your child in class learning about astronomy from a Canadian astronaut, or talking to a biochemist or a technology expert about engineering and genetics. VROC makes it possible for our children to speak with experts over video throughout the school year. Already over two dozen universities, hospitals and research organizations participate in the program, talking to students on a daily basis. The team members at Partners In Research have been doing an amazing job, not only coordinating the content and speakers but supporting teachers with video technology.
Cisco and Sheridan are proud to join as strong supporters of Partners In Research and the VROC program as they work to expand services nationally, with the vision of being able to reach every classroom in Canada. Last week at Cisco Connect Toronto we announced that we have contributed over a million dollars in product, direct funding and resources to the program. Sheridan has also made a significant commitment to provide shared video and data centre infrastructure, along with technical expertise, that will allow this program to grow.
Best of all, this initiative creates a platform that can be used to support other programs across Canada. For instance, together with Partners in Research and Cisco, the Alberta Distance Learning Centre is working to deliver similar offerings to classrooms across Alberta. And we will be extending into Canada’s far north this upcoming school year when we launch into an Iqaluit school with the help of satellite provider, SSI Micro, in an effort to excite students and encourage them to continue their education.
The VROC initiative is so large in scope that we collectively need many more partners and volunteers for it to reach its full potential. Organizations can get involved by contributing to the collective content, having employees volunteer as experts, or even by donating older video conferencing technologies. We look forward to not only working with Sheridan and Partners In Research, but also our customers and partners to recruit engineers and scientists in their companies who share our passion for these programs.