As part of Science Odyssey, we are interviewing a variety of STEM innovators to investigate pathways into STEM and to discuss the future of STEM learning and careers.
Stephanie Maasik graduated from McGill University in Biology and from Dalhousie University with a Masters in Resource and Environmental Management. While at Dalhousie, she focused on conservation and environmental education. She then went on to work on curriculum development for various science degrees at the Prek Leap National College of Agriculture in Cambodia and as an environmental education leadership assistant at the Cheakamus Centre outside of Squamish, BC. Stephanie is passionate about science and environmental education and is excited to bring her skills and experience to The Nanaimo Science and Sustainability Society (NS3).
What sparked your interest and eventual career in science and environmental education?
I did not have a clear path into science and environmental education. Growing up I loved spending time outdoors and began growing my passion for the environment with my family, girl guide and scout groups.In high school, I was interested in math and biology; in particular, cells and the living world. I also cared for animals and I think that empathy sparked my interest in conservation. I decided to pursue biology to be a genetic counsellor in university as I liked the idea of working with people. Through my undergrad, I figured out genetics were not quite for me and took environmental science classes. It was not until my Masters where I realized I wanted to share my passion for science and the environment to help make change and make informed decisions.
Did you have a mentor who supported you in your education/career pathway in STEM?
I had a fabulous mentor growing up; my high school geography and biology teacher was very supportive and provided a great role model as a woman in science. My teacher recognized my interest and skill in science and pushed me to pursue it further. Her grade 10 biology course inspired me to continue in science and take biology as my major in university. There was also a focus on sustainability, I remember one project where we had to develop a board game entirely out of recycled and reused materials on a course subject. This is when I began to think about sustainability and the importance of using less. She was very dedicated to her students and created an environment where I could inquire and ask questions. Even after high school, we kept in touch and she supported me as I explored different areas of biology She was one of the first people to say I should become a teacher. We continue to have a good relationship and I try to give back by sharing my experience in science with current students at my high school and motivated them to continue their interests.
Mentorship has a large part to play in engaging youth in STEM. A mentor provides enthusiasm and support for youth to start asking questions and pursue what they find interesting, especially if the subject may not be seen as “cool” to their peers. Mentorship can also expose youth to different careers paths they may normally not be aware of. A big part of mentorship is having someone for youth to speak with to express concerns and receive support and encouragement.
What did you want to be when you were small? Did you plan your current career path?
I can say that I did not plan my current career path, however in hindsight there were several signs that I would become an educator. What I wanted to be when I grew up changed quite frequently when I was small. My most distinct memories were my desire to be a fashion designer and an architect. I had a sewing machine and a book on making clothes. The dreams were short lived as I discovered my lack of ability in the drawing department. I found my current career path by taking a variety of classes and continued to take subjects I found interesting until I landed on conservation and sustainability. It was eureka moment one late night in my Masters when I realized science and environmental education hit the elements I wanted in a job.
Tell us about your role at NS3 and your organization’s impact on the STEM community/community of BC
At NS3, we aim to inspire children and develop their interest in science and sustainability through hands-on learning. As Outreach Educator, I develop and lead hands-on science programs to youth in-school, after-school, at our Science Studio and at community events. I help create a safe space for children to experiment and tinker while learning through play. Our programs cover all areas of STEM and allow students to explore different topics that they may not be previously exposed to. The hands-on nature of our programs helps engage youth in STEM and can allow them to push their limits in projects where trial and error is required.
The NS3 Science Studio is unique as it provides a space for families to explore STEM and make discoveries together. It allows everyone to be a scientist and discover you do not need a career as scientists to have a passion for science and discovery. NS3’s programs help engage youth in STEM and inspire environmental stewardship. For example, our Citizen Science Program where grade five students in our local Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district have an authentic experience collecting data on bivalve diversity and specifically monitor the dynamics of an introduced bivalve, while working with local researchers. Permanent transects with quadrats are used to monitor changes in bivalve diversity, abundance, and sediment characteristics over five years. The environmental outreach project raises awareness about local environmental issues as students identify social, ethical, and environmental implications of their findings, while fostering community.
What do you think the future of STEM looks like in BC?
I think there will be growth in STEM in BC as more and more things become computerized and the ability to code will become required. Learning to code and knowledge in STEM will become the equivalent of using Microsoft Office. By getting youth interested and engaged in STEM from a young age, children will be more comfortable using as well as creating technology. A strong push in STEM education in BC is required, particularly as large tech corporations are seeing the importance in investing in STEM education for youth, to help youth obtain important employable skills and knowledge. With a focus on STEM education in youth in BC, the future can look more promising.
What is Science World’s role in promoting and supporting STEM learning and careers in BC?
Science World has an important role in promoting and supporting STEM learning. TELUS World of Science is a space for children to play and tinker so they begin asking questions. Having children ask inquiry questions at a young age will drive STEM learning and the desire to pursue a career in STEM. Science World can help expose STEM to children who may not have the same exposure to these subjects through their family. At NS3, we try to create a similar space for families that may not be able to head over to Vancouver.
About the Nanaimo Science and Sustainability Society
The mission of the Nanaimo Science and Sustainability Society (NS3) is to inspire children and develop their interest in science and sustainability through hands-on learning. Key to this mission is conducting community outreach through our educational programs, and building an interactive Science Centre for the central Vancouver Island region—a destination attraction where families, kids, retirees, teachers, schools and tourists have fun playing in hands-on exhibits, questioning how things work, discovering the science behind sustainability practices, and imagining the wonders of the natural world. Science World and the Nanaimo Science and Sustainability Society are pleased to work in partnership to support STEM learning on Vancouver Island. In the past few years our organizations have worked together to develop the second edition of Big Science for Little Hands, resources for early childhood educators that promote opportunities for hands on science exploration. In addition, NS3 regularly participates in the BC Science Outreach community.
Explore activities for early learners
Big Science for Little Hands at Home—complementary "at home" versions ideal for caregivers and preschool-age children to explore science together.
Big Science for Little Hands and Science World Resources—recommended units and activities for Kindergarten students
What's happening today for Science Odyssey?
In Nanaimo, our early learning specialist, Jacki Mayo, will be joining NS3 staff from 10am to 2pm at a special Science Studio Drop-in to celebrate Science Odyssey!