Thompson Rivers University

TRU’s first Shad students experience the BC Interior

July 25, 2023

TRU's first group of Shad students spent four weeks exploring robotics and other offerings at TRU, Wells Gray Provincial Park and Kamloops.

A unique chemistry happens when exceptional students from high schools across Canada converge on campus for four weeks of hands-on learning, change making and university life.

Thompson Rivers University (TRU) welcomed 48 Grade 10 and 11 students to its Kamloops campus on July 2 to experience Shad Canada’s science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) and entrepreneurship program.

Dr. Tom Dickinson, retired science dean and professor emerit of biology, is Shad TRU’s first director. He says the program stands out from other immersive summer experiences for its collaborative, team-building focus.

“These students are from all over the country, each very different in backgrounds, interests and perspectives, and they would never have come together otherwise. Now they are collaborating on very difficult projects for the design entrepreneurship challenge, learning to recognize and use each of their strengths in a complimentary way,” says Dickinson.

Living Spaces challenge

Mazyar Mojovdi

In planning the curriculum for four intensive weeks, Dickinson aimed to give Shad students an understanding of place: the campus, Kamloops and the region. The theme for the program’s design entrepreneurship (DE) challenge, Living Spaces, is woven throughout lectures and labs, tours and cultural events, volunteering and a three-day trip to Wells Gray Provincial Park. The program culminates in the Shad Show, a public open house on July 27 where students present their solutions to the DE challenge and wrap up their stay at TRU.

Human Enterprise and Innovation faculty member and Lego facilitator Dr. Andrew Fergus led students through a Lego team-building exercise on day three that set the stage for collaboration.

“The lecture around Lego and community-building was really, really good for establishing connections with my group,” says student Mazyar Mojovdi from North Vancouver, BC. “You got to see how others think, where their strengths are and how we can work together as a group.”

Each team of eight explored the Living Spaces theme from three angles: accessibility, sustainability and community connection. They chose a real-world challenge to solve by applying STEAM skills and entrepreneurship, mentored by TRU faculty, alumni and community members through talks, tours and workshops.

Making memories at Wells Gray

For a deeper understanding of Living Spaces, students spent three days in one of Dickinson’s favourite places, Wells Gray Provincial Park. From home base at TRU’s Wells Gray Education and Research Centre, students explored temperate old-growth forests, wildlife habitats and waterfalls while learning about the 550,000-hectare park from faculty and guests, and Secwépemc history with TRU Chancellor Nathan Matthew of Simpcw First Nation.

Elizabeth Wright

The trip was memorable for Elizabeth Wright from Woodbridge, ON, because the group really came together at Wells Gray and a tradition began. “With tea lights instead of a campfire, we sat on the deck and did karaoke,” Wright says. “Now we do karaoke everywhere, even on the bus and in lecture halls after sessions.”

“That’s why I chose Shad,” adds Mojovdi, “For the experiences, the memories, the people I get to meet. And to immerse myself and see what it’s like on a university campus — to get a glimpse into that university life.”

Wright heard about Shad from friends and jumped at the chance to combine her love of STEAM with experiencing life on campus before going to university.

“Living on campus is very different than being home. It’s a good way to make friends and be involved in the community you form, both here at Shad and at university generally,” Wright says. “It’s a very good bonding experience.” Seeing TRU’s campus, Kamloops and area have put the university on the map for her.

Getting a feel for university life

Hoping to go into aeronautical engineering, Pranshu Patel from Niagara Falls, ON, enjoyed the sessions on sustainable building, coding and robotics with Texas Instruments and Engineering faculty member Dr. Geoff Fink, as well as the nursing simulation labs.

“We learned CPR at the nursing session, and experienced nursing simulators with a combination of scripts and AI that allow the sims to talk and interact.”

Pranshu Patel

Patel’s trip to Kamloops was his first time on a plane alone and his first extended time away from family. He says attending sessions in various lecture halls and labs gives him a taste of what life on his own would be like. “The community here is great, it’s inclusive. There’s a lot to do on campus, lots of places to chill and enjoy.”

Mojovdi is interested in a marketing degree, but has enjoyed hearing new ways his skills in math fit into STEAM. He is keeping his options open, although he was intimidated going into the robot coding session.

“Prior to that session I had no knowledge of coding, and on leaving I felt pretty confident because I got the car thing to move. It makes coding less scary once you have the basics.”

Wright, who plans to go into computer science, enjoyed the coding sessions and levelled up her skills by programming her robot to write “SHAD.” But serious work is ahead for her team’s DE challenge problem, focusing on accessibility in the built world.

Each team has chosen a real-world problem for which they must design a solution to pitch, with entrepreneurship coaching from Venture Kamloops.

“Accessibility really shouldn’t be an issue but we noticed in our research it cropped up frequently. People should have access to everything regardless of disability,” she says. “We did mind maps of all three challenge prompts, and disabled people as a community came up in all three.”

Shad creates connections

Patel’s team is examining food insecurity in low-income households of Calgary. A day of volunteering in week three brought the challenge to life with a visit to Butler Urban Farm, which distributes its produce to community organizations that serve food-insecure populations. The team aims to develop supports for vertical farming.

Dickinson hopes to see some of this summer’s students back on the TRU campus as undergrad students. Regardless of where the future takes them, a part of their experience in Kamloops will stay with them.

“These students will be the leaders in Canada’s future. I feel very honoured to have connected with them and introduced them to Kamloops,” he says. “The relationships they form here will last a lifetime.”

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