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Meeting the Canadian PM - a first hand account

Monday, October 2, 2017

Taking STEM Outreach to Another Level

Imagine if a teacher asked you to concisely summarize everything you learned over a school year in under two minutes. On September 26, 2017 we, as members of the Ctrl-Z Bayview Glen robotics team, were faced with a similar challenge, but instead we were asked by the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau.

From September 2016 to April 2017, Ctrl-Z, consisting of Brianna Gonzalez, Daniel Gonzalez, Trent Rossos, Harrison Cazzin, Mackenzie Clark, Matthew Wong, and Alex Alexiev, had invested over 3,500 hours working on their robot, research project, and outreach. As a result, in April 2017, out of a pool of over 32,000 other robotics teams from around the world, Ctrl-Z won the Champions Award – 1st place at the FIRST Championships in St. Louis. This was only the second time a Canadian team had ever achieved this honour.

A few months later, in September 2017, Ctrl-Z was invited to represent FIRST Canada at the inaugural Prime Minister's Science Fair held on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. There were 28 other students selected from across Canada (BC, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, PEI, and Newfoundland) to showcase their science projects at the event.

On the evening of September 25th, we flew to Ottawa accompanied by Mr. Denison (learning strategist for the Lower School and head coach of Bayview Glen robotics teams) and Dave Ellis (Director of FLL Ontario). After arriving at around 10:30 p.m., we had to prepare for the big event the following day by charging the robot's batteries, lining up team materials, and most importantly learning how to iron our team jerseys!

The next morning, all 30 participants of the Science Fair gathered their projects and loaded them onto the coach bus that would be transporting the group over the course of the day. The first stop was the Wellington Building, just down the street from Parliament. Here, all the students would participate in a round table meeting with the Minister of Science, Kirsty Duncan, and the President of NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada), Dr. Mario Pinto. Without their science projects in hand, all the students and chaperones entered the building. Due to high security, it took almost an hour to make it to the meeting room, but it was well worth the effort. Each seat had a microphone and a set of headphones, and there was even a live translator for participants to hear simultaneous interpretation of French and English language. First, each student made introductory remarks to the Minister. Then the students each spoke about their science project, from a 10-year old student talking about the effects of advertising on the human senses to a 17-year old student describing research on cancer therapy with Nano technology. All found it inspirational to hear the students share their passion and to hear Minister Duncan and Dr. Pinto speak about their goals and how important it was for Canada’s future that youth be involved in STEM.      

Following Minister Duncan’s round table, the students ate a light lunch and then boarded the bus for the final stop at the Langevin Block, the Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council. This time, the students entered the building without the chaperones. Everyone unloaded their projects from the bus and brought them to security for inspection. We were given thirty minutes to set up our showcase, consisting of two 4’ x 8’ display boards, trophies, robot and playing field, and Pinder Pet Finder innovative solution.  For the next hour, almost two dozen Members of Parliament visited our showcase. We demonstrated our autonomous robot and research project and discussed our accomplishments, all that we had learned, and how we have inspired other youth to get involved with STEM.

As the MP’s cleared out, guards secured all the entrances, and Justin Trudeau, accompanied by Dr. Mona Nemer, newly appointed Chief Science Advisor, Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science, and an entire film crew, came up the stairs, and made their way to the end of the hall. As the students lined up side by side, the Prime Minister listened to their presentations one by one. Then, it was time for us to deliver our presentation. We had less than two minutes to explain everything to our audience. With all the practice over the years and the good luck from our oversized Canada hats that we wore at the FIRST Championships, we nailed the presentation. The Prime Minister was extremely impressed by how much Ctrl-Z has done to inspire youth, including mentoring a First Nations team in Toronto. In saying farewell, we gave Prime Minister Trudeau one of our Canada hats to remember Bayview Glen and the Ctrl-Z robotics team.  

We will never forget our visit to Ottawa and how honoured we were to represent BVG and FIRST Canada in meeting with Canada’s leaders.  Special thanks to Mr. Denison and Mr. Ellis for accompanying us to Ottawa and making this truly memorable event a reality.

Trent Rossos and Alex Alexiev