At a time of year when most high school students are enjoying a vacation from school, Dalhousie has just finished playing host to a group of youth who used their time off to get a little extra education.
Shad Valley is a four-week long summer enrichment program for grade 10, 11, and 12 students that offers the opportunity for youth to travel to one of ten university campuses around the country and take part in a month of workshops and seminars that focus on science, technology, and entrepreneurship. Dalhousie has had 49 of these students from around the country participating in Shad Valley since the beginning of July.
The youth hail from as far away as British Columbia to as close as Prince Edward Island, but all came because they saw Shad Valley as an opportunity to not only expand their horizons, but to also learn a little more about another part of the country.
Potential to excel
Blaise Roberts, a Grade 12 student from Kinkora, PEI, says that the opportunity for personal growth offered by Shad Valley is what excited him about the program.
“I have a commitment to improving myself, intellectually and socially,” he explains, adding that the opportunity to meet people from around the country while expanding his range of experience and knowledge would also help with university admissions and scholarships.
The program is difficult to be accepted to, and students are picked on the basis of their potential to excel in fields such as engineering, science and technology, and leadership. But once accepted, Shad Valley offers a wide range of benefits for the 517 participants that will not only help them to succeed in their hometown communities, but will prepare them for life in university.
Planning and executing
The students have busy schedules, taking part in lectures in the mornings and seminars on a range of subjects in the afternoon. These talks are delivered by various Dalhousie faculty members and members of the community.
The students are also split into teams and asked to develop business projects related to an annually chosen topic. This year’s challenge was to develop a product that would improve the quality of life for youth with disabilities. Teams develop prototypes, business plans, proposals and presentations, and then compete amongst each other for the best project. Winning teams from each campus get to compete nationally against other campuses.
Examples of projects that Dalhousie Shads worked on included developing adaptive magnetic strips for clothing to make it easier for youth with physical challenges to dress themselves, as well as creating a device that would help someone get from a wheelchair to a bed without the help of a caretaker.
But as any participant will tell you, Shad Valley is not just about doing work in the classroom. Students get to explore the province on various outings to provincial parks and places of interest, all the while developing meaningful and lasting relationships with one another that will hopefully extend into their university and career lives.
Ramya Kancherla, a Grade 12 student from Burlington, Ontario, says that the networking opportunities provided by Shad Valley are invaluable.
“We all love being here,” she says. “It doesn’t feel like we’ve only been here for two weeks – there is such a strong community between us already.”
The program’s director at Dalhousie is Mary Kilfoil from the Department of Economics, who’s been with the program since 2007. She notes that one of the benefits of Shad is the opportunity for high school students to interact with faculty at the university, who help to deliver much of the program’s content. But it’s as much about the community that emerges among the students as the knowledge learned.
“One of the tremendous benefits to the Shad Valley program is that high school students join an inclusive, supportive community where they are able to learn about themselves and strive to reach their full potential,” says Dr. Kilfoil.
And while both Ramya and Blaise agree that the program has helped them to narrow down what they want to do in university while teaching them a lot about business and technology, the memories they have made with their fellow students have been just as valuable. They will be leaving with both a new arsenal of information and a network of engaged youth from around the country to call on in the future.
Not a bad way to spend your summer vacation.
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