Students get buzzed about tech at CareerMash Youth Tech Jam

Greater Toronto Area (GTA) high school students created a lot of energized buzz last Friday at a CareerMash Youth Tech Jam on how they imagine technology changing the world and how they might drive that change through a tech career.

You could just feel the energy at the Ontario Science Centre Friday as 200 students capped off several weeks of CareerMash Youth Tech Jams held at seven schools across five southern Ontario regions, reaching 500 students in total.

Each Jam event yielded new insights about how teenagers navigate, use and are inspired by tech tools and capabilities. The discussions were designed as a warm up to the World Congress on Information Technology (WCIT 2012) World Tech Jam being held in June 2012. We focused on five key themes WCIT 2012 will be discussing and we learned that young people today have a deep understanding of how technology is woven into the fabric of our world.

Two GTA high school students at the CareerMash Youth Tech JamCareerMash compiled the ideas from all the Youth Tech Jams we held across southern Ontario and on Friday, students chose  the most exciting, useful, and just plain best ideas from each of the other Jams.

So which ideas were most popular? Some questions drew a clear majority, like dissolvable packaging as the best way to reduce consumer waste (56%). When asked about the easiest and least expensive model for legal downloading of music, movies and software, the majority spoke even louder. A full 65% of students preferred free sites paid for by advertising to alternatives such as a monthly flat-rate model (22%) or free content in exchange for completing market research surveys (6%).

This last result suggests students are savvier about privacy issues than adults may give them credit for and another question confirms this is true. A clear majority (71%) feels that protecting personal information on the Internet is primarily the responsibility of internet users, rather than companies like Facebook and Google.

Other questions proved more divisive among participating students. When asked which innovations could best help society to cope with an aging population students voted for Kinect games designed to manage conditions like arthritis (33%) and wireless alerts for caretakers to monitor their loved ones’ health from afar (39%).

When it comes to improving tech education, CareerMash expected most students to favour fundraising for more iPads and laptops in the classroom. While 49% of students did choose this option, a sizeable 41% said tech-based learning should be integrated into all courses, including English, History,and other courses not commonly associated with technology.

The Friday event also featured a keynote speech from tech powerhouse Genevieve L’Esperance, a 19-year-old McGill University student who has led workshops to teach young women programming. She has also interned with a cutting-edge Microsoft Research team on the Worldwide Telescope project.

Genevieve gave the CareerMash Youth Tech Jam’s attendees food for thought when she told them that passion, while important, cannot be their only career foundation. Gen stressed the importance of thinking not only about where your passions lie but what your talents are, and what the world needs. All three factors are essential in finding career and personal fulfillment, according to Gen – and she should know. Her exuberance and wise advice led one teacher to ask: “can she be bottled?”

After Gen’s thought-provoking speech, students explored exhibits hosted by a variety of Canadian employers including Scotiabank, CGI, American Express , Bell Canada, and the Ontario Ministry of Government Services. They also learned about some of the most innovative programs on offer at post-secondary institutions like the University of Toronto at Mississauga, Centennial College and Seneca College.

The energy in the room was palpable, and students were eager to share what they had learned in brief interviews with CareerMash staff. One student, who was planning a career in medicine, was astonished to learn of the possibilities that awaited her in fields such as bioinformatics and biomedical engineering.

Another student said he felt inspired by the many ways he could apply his interest in art to a technology career.

Organizations like Bell & Seneca College talked to students about tech careers at the CareerMash Youth Tech JamAs one of the event’s organizers, I firmly believe that these kinds of learning experiences can inspire career choices that will be creatively, financially, and personally rewarding for students. My own highlight of this amazing day was reading the following email from a student at the CareerMash Youth Tech Jam.

“Just wanted to thank you for inspiring me and opening my eyes to technology! I think I want to get into the field instead of a strict business major! CareerMash is doing a phenomenal and noble task of enlightening teenage girls like myself: showing us what the world really needs and what we need to do to contribute!”

Stay tuned for a video we’ll be posting soon that captures the highlights of the event and a selection of student responses!

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