indicatorThe Twenty-Four

Paying it forward

The benefits of early-stage youth programs that encourage innovation, technology use and entrepreneurship

By Daniel Semmens and Rob Roach, ATB Economics 20 June 2023 2 min read

There is little doubt that one of the many benefits of education is its correlation with increased economic success at both the individual and societal level.

With that said, it can be difficult to measure the effects of specific educational interventions aimed at increasing things like innovation and entrepreneurship.

To help address this shortfall, a recent study* was conducted to measure whether exposure to youth STEM programs improved outcomes.

The programming in question is the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition** and the support offered through initiatives such as MindFuel’s Technology Futures Challenge (formerly known as geekStarter).

A longitudinal analysis of Alberta participants in the iGEM competition since 2007 found that:

  • study participants identified key learnings such as “walking away with valuable skills in team management, communication, and critical thinking development” that were applied in various ways in their future endeavours;
  • the early exposure to synthetic biology innovation helped students better prepare for careers, with about 40% of participants continuing to use molecular biology skills in their current roles;
  • respondents have also used their biotechnology skills to become problem-solvers and innovators with two in three reporting being part of a team that has created an innovation in their careers;
  • along with being entrepreneurs and technologists more than 20% or study participants had started companies speaking to the innovative mindset created by the programs.

“Overall, the results of the study indicate a positive impact in the short term and long term for students who are mentored in innovation, have access to skills learning and training, and who are challenged to ideate through problem solving. These youth indicate they are “better prepared” for careers in critical thinking, innovation and new technology creation.”

The study suggests that purposeful exposure to thoughtful STEM programming is not just a good idea in theory but can also work well in practice.

There is more to learn about the benefits. The study highlights that more investigation is warranted; namely, looking more closely at commercial, innovation, academic and social outcomes. 

This is not the only study that has attempted to measure the impacts of STEM youth programs. In the US, a study published by the National Bureau for Economic Research performed a randomized controlled trial of students enrolled in STEM summer programs and compared them to a control group. It found that participants of the STEM programs were more likely to enroll and remain enrolled in college in their senior year and graduate from STEM fields relative to the control group.

For more information about the study, please contact Dan Semmens, SVP & Head, Data & AI, ATB Financial.

*The study was completed by DCL Consulting on behalf of MindFuel and in partnership with GenomeAlberta. Overall, 757 students were identified as being part of 76 projects from 2007-2022 of which 440 contact records were created and 162 survey respondents were reached through various digital means. Participants ranged from a wide

background and 96% of all Alberta iGEM teams were represented amongst the findings.

**Multidisciplinary student teams from all over the world compete for medals and awards by designing, building, and testing projects using cutting edge synthetic biology.

Answer to the previous trivia question: The northern hemisphere’s pole is tilted toward the sun on the June solstice.

Today’s trivia question: What does STEM stand for?

DNA is made up of a double-stranded helix

Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) takes the form of a double-stranded helix

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