As global interest in offshore wind energy rises exponentially, inspiring outreach activities are sweeping the world: OffshoreWind4Kids.
During these thrilling sessions, families and students explore the intricacies of turbines and build their own. This initiative set sail in 2021, starting in Belgium, and has since traversed continents, leaving its mark across Europe, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas.
While offshore turbines in Canadian waters are still a few years away, conversations about the technology and the workforce required for deployment and operation are already stirring. Embracing this mission, the Centre for Ocean Ventures and Entrepreneurship (COVE) orchestrated the debut of OffshoreWind4Kids events in Canada this summer. Introducing the catalysts of change Tanya Lush and Katherine Mataya. United by a shared mission, they are committed to constructing a diverse and dynamic talent pipeline that, not only contributes to, but also learns from the ocean sector. They played a pivotal role in organizing the OffshoreWind4Kids events in Nova Scotia, Canada.
Alexandra: Could you both share an overview of your roles and responsibilities at COVE in relation to education and outreach, and elaborate on how your efforts contribute to workforce development?
Tanya: I'm the Director of Workforce Development at Cove. The COVE Workforce Development team focuses on building and delivering programs and projects for the marine sector that develop the talent pipeline from school-age youth to senior-level professionals. Although based in Nova Scotia, our reach is national, aligning with our goal of timely skill development for the sector's growth - marine scientists but also in finance, marketing, engineering, etc. It’s all about building a talent pipeline: we need the right people with the right competencies. Our sector is growing and there are infinite opportunities for careers currently and projects for the next decade.
Katherine: Our programs engage diverse age groups, focusing on ocean literacy from primary to high school levels. We kindle excitement in even younger students, fostering interest in oceans. We have the longest coastline in Canada and our goal is to infuse more ocean topics into the school curriculum to inspire future leaders. We bridge gaps in marine education in schools through student and teacher programming.
As the Education and Outreach Manager, I aim to inform students about careers in the marine sector and how various skills can be infused in green careers. COVE also facilitates an internship program for post-secondary students to build their work-integrated learning experiences and contribute to their professional development through mentorship, networking, and meaningful work. It goes beyond a summer internship.
OffshoreWind4Kids event in NS this summer. Credits: COVE
Alexandra: Your commitment to creating a genuine family engagement experience is evident, and it's clear that your efforts have resonated with participants.
Could you share your insights on how the OffshoreWind4Kids program effectively engages diverse age groups and families?
Katherine: I've previously worked on family programming, and I find it’s a unique opportunity because parents sometimes struggle with introducing new topics to their kids. The goal of this program is to provide these experiences where families can learn together.
It sparks conversations and connections that might not happen otherwise. With Offshore Wind 4 Kids, families benefit from interactive experiences and peer-to-peer learning, in a beautiful and casual environment.
Tanya: A number of years ago, research highlighted parents' significant influence on kids' choices, even careers. OffshoreWind4 Kids is a family-oriented program designed to guide kids' problem-solving and thinking alongside their parents. Parents and children interactions are a highlight of our events.
It's a collaborative effort that enriches the experience for everyone involved. While children are often the ones taking the lead, engaging in self-play and used to building things and technology. Parents play a crucial advisory and participatory role.
Alexandra: Could you elaborate on how you navigate the delicate balance between incorporating playfulness and critical thinking in your programs? Balancing fun activities and scientific evidence can be tricky!
Katherine: Balancing the technical content with the hands-on and creative elements can be a challenge, especially on the beach with families. We aim to distill three key takeaways for the day, and encourage critical thinking and resilience.
In the classroom, students are often given specific instructions and lack the freedom to figure things out on their own. The beauty of the OffshoreWind4Kids program lies in allowing participants to explore, think critically, and learn from challenges - fostering a deep understanding and enriching conversations. We show them it’s okay to fail, that’s how science and engineering are done, through trial and error.
Tanya: Children learn best with an understanding of concepts through explanation and experiential learning - they love to learn by doing!, and their cognitive processes are different from those of previous generations, outside standard educational settings youth are thriving through this type of learning we offer.. It's essential to have more experiential and interactive learning, moving away from the traditional classroom model where the teacher imparts knowledge.
We've found that peer-to-peer learning is highly effective. In this case, parents served as peers because, just like kids, they aren't experts in the field. This experiential, interactive approach engages various parts of the brain as they engage in communication, physical activity, and problem-solving.
Alexandra: How do you go about assessing the impact of your programs, particularly when dealing with children who have sporadic interactions with your initiatives?
Katherine: It's tricky when we have limited time with some students. To evaluate their impact, we use pre- and post-experience evaluations. This helps us track shifts in perceptions and knowledge gained.
We'll be bringing the program to schools soon, surveying students before and after to gauge improvements in their understanding of offshore wind, renewable energy, and marine careers. While the long-term impact will take time to measure, this immediate evaluation gives us a snapshot of the program's effect.
Tanya: Absolutely, that's a significant challenge we face due to the age group we work with. However, we have seen more immediate returns on investment through our internship program.
Our interns have achieved a 100 % employment rate upon graduation, either directly in the ocean sector or in adjacent industries like engineering, defence, technology, or manufacturing. While it's a smaller sample size due to the program's relative youth, it shows promising signs of success, and as the years go by, we anticipate a larger pool of graduates to track and measure more comprehensively.
Alexandra: Do you have any wisdom for individuals venturing into this space - seeking to harmonize education, scientific engagement, and entertainment?
Tanya: I believe that being a role model holds immense significance. You don't necessarily need to be an expert to have a profound impact on young individuals. For example, in our internship program, the mentors don't always come from marine backgrounds; it's about imparting insights, ideas, and inspiring a thirst for knowledge.
My involvement with offshore wind was born out of a need for workforce development. Although I had minimal prior knowledge, I delved into research and learning experiences. Now, I find myself teaching kids about building turbines, and my educational background is psychology! Being a role model is about sharing excitement for the future and inspiring others to explore new frontiers, regardless of your starting point.
Katherine: Firstly, if you're just starting out, consider volunteering as an excellent way to gain hands-on experience and observe various program facilitation styles. It's a valuable stepping stone for getting involved and learning about different teaching methods.
Secondly, I recommend aligning your efforts with your personal interests. Passion plays a significant role in resonating with your audience, fostering excitement. Sharing what genuinely captivates you can make the subject matter more engaging for your audience. Don't hesitate to explore innovative and interactive approaches to make the content intriguing and enjoyable. Embrace your authentic self and don't be afraid to inject a bit of humour and personality into your teaching. These qualities are essential, no matter the age group you're instructing.
The interview has been thoughtfully edited to ensure clarity. We hope it will captivate, inspire and empower others!
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