IBMers in Canada support STEM skills during the pandemic

By | 3 minute read | July 6, 2020

As the pandemic continues to impact everyone around the world, IBMers in Canada have stepped up to donate their time to others across the country. In recent months, IBMers have made masks and face shields, joined a hackathon to find ways to combat COVID-19, delivered food to seniors, assembled food and hygiene kits, and became pen pals to youth dealing with isolation and bullying, to name a few examples.

In Canada, we are enabling IBMers to advance tech skills among Canada’s youth, girls/women, veterans, new immigrants, and people with disabilities by partnering with key stakeholders in the public and non-profit sectors. We provide IBMers from coast to coast with the tools and resources they need to get involved and make a difference in their communities.

Through their actions, they’ve demonstrated that we truly are stronger together.  Here are highlights of their efforts supporting education and skills.

Coding for Kids

IBMers Josepha Ekedi, Melissa Valdez, Spurthi Kommajosula, Brianna Forbes-Crowe, Breanna Moffat, and Charlie Pallett started the Kids Code Jeunesse (KCJ) Virtual Code Club to provide children of IBMers aged 7 to 17 years old with coding lessons. For six weeks in May and June, 78 IBM Global Business Services associates conducted 24 workshops (using Scratch and Python) and 70 code club classes, to more than 150 kids. Thanks to the success of this effort and a 94% satisfaction score, plans are underway to expand the offering to all IBM Canada families and our clients’ children in the future.

According to Melissa Valdez, “parents were grateful for the opportunity to have their kids learn code while school was out.  There were so many volunteers who went above and beyond as educators and as role models for the children.

Spurthi Kommajosula celebrated her experience: “I have really cherished the experience of creating a community that enabled us to shine light on the importance of digital skills education. The enthusiasm from the volunteers and the students was really inspiring and infectious.”


Tech support for parents who were home schooling

Marcus Buckle, Red Hat Synergy Leader for Canada, based in Burnaby, BC was eager to use his IBM experience to help during this COVID-19 pandemic.

“As I watched my kids do their Taekwondo classes over a live streamed video session, I was reminded of the work IBM volunteers were doing in Spain and Italy to help schools, and realized that we were going to have a similar problem in Canada.”

As schools began to roll out remote learning, Marcus reached out to the principal of his children’s school and learned teachers were spending their time helping parents and children use remote learning technologies. Thus, Tech Support for Parents was born.

To date, this initiative has been deployed in three provinces, supporting six school districts, making this a great cross-Canada initiative. The group helps parents set up their tech tools, including how to tile thumbnails in a video conference so children could see all their classmates to getting a microphone to work or restarting an old Windows 95 PC they may have in storage, among other things.


Virtual mentorships

Before the pandemic, IBMers in Nova Scotia were organizing a team of mentors to enhance student participation in a local P-TECH pilot called TAP (Technology Advantage Program).  At the request of the Department of Education’s Career Pathways Program, the IBMers created a Co-Op partnership program for Grade 11 and 12 students to help them complete credit hours to pass the course or graduate.

Arash Khalili, an IT Advisory Specialist and Consultant and one of the IBM mentors, led the IBM team to transition the program virtually during the COVID-19 crisis.

When I heard the school year would continue online, my initial thought was how students across the province — especially in rural areas with no or limited access to internet and laptop/PC — can finish their school year?”, said Arash. “Imagine families that cannot afford to buy a laptop or PC for their children? I knew I wanted to help and eventually with the support of IBMers in Nova Scotia, this initiative turned out to be something bigger and better. This achievement was teamwork.”

In total, 22 mentors signed up to help 28 students across 6 regions in the province. With teachers’ help, IBMers virtually mentored students, focusing on career exploration. They held 1-2 sessions per students to discuss the IBMer’s role, education, career skills, current projects, and more.  Students completed related assignments and obtained their required co-op credits needed to graduate.

Following the program’s success, Thomas Sykes, JoAnne Noel, Nicolas Schultz, & Angela O’Malley, supported by 21 volunteers, developed a mentoring initiative with Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) to help 18 IT graduates complete post-secondary internships and work placements virtually, including Call for Code sessions, agile workshops, and design thinking sessions, all in response to COVID-19 work placement cancellations.


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