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VoSNL Community STEM Clubs

By Kyle Marian Viterbo , Jeanne Garbarino

The Visions of Science Network for Learning: Community STEM Clubs

For this #scioutcasestudy entry, we are chatting about the VoSNL Community STEM Clubs initiative — the largest initiative of the VoSNL organization. Set directly inside of priority communities, the STEM Clubs initiative serves students in grades 3 through 8. This free for participants program and takes place on Saturdays throughout the school year. Camilo Garay,  Director of Partnerships and Collaborations for VoSNL, takes us through the process.

Community STEM Club Details

STEM Clubs are designed to “spark and sustain interest” by bringing youth hands-on STEM workshops in the form of experiments and field trips to STEM-based institutions. With an inquiry-based approach to learning at the center, youth are encouraged to ask questions, make observations, and develop ideas. A significant emphasis is placed on developing the socio-emotional skills of youth including confidence, leadership and more with support from caring and consistent facilitators.

  • Grades 3-8
  • 2 hours/week, 26 weeks/year
  • 1-3 field trips related to STEM concepts (e.g. The Ontario Science Centre, The Royal Ontario Museum, The Toronto Public Library, The University of Toronto)
  • 1-3 guest speakers related to STEM concepts (Sick Kids Hospital, Relay Education, SciHigh)
  • 1 paid facilitator (traditionally in a STEM field of study, research, or career)
  • 3-5 volunteer facilitators (traditionally in a STEM field of study, research, or career)
  • 0-5 youth facilitators (alumni that have aged out of the CSC program and have entered our STEM leaders program)
  • 1 Year-End Event (The Visionary Expo – large scale science fair for all clubs)

Conversation Takeaways

For Science Outreach Practitioners

  • Some of the team members grew up in similar social housing as the communities they serve. This layer of lived experience adds to the empathy and ethos of the work they do with marginalized communities they serve.
  • The organization conducts focus groups with the communities to inform their programming and ensure it meets the needs of those they serve.
  • Each program has variable community resources, spaces, demographics, facilitators, and even stakeholder interests. They’ve learned their team must remain adaptable, resilient, and ready to “roll with it.”

Do not underestimate the importance of secure relationships – empathy, compassion, patience, and trust are your best friends when developing individuals – social-emotional learning and consistency are critical components. — Camilo Garay

Views on Youth Participants

  • Longterm, consistent engagement has been impactful for trust-building and retention of youth participants from marginalized, low-income backgrounds.
  • Youth participants get to explore STEM in a safe, secure, judgement-free space.
  • Participants build long-term relationships with facilitators and some even return to the program as mentors because of the positive overall experience.

If there was a do-over button

Camilo described how important it has been to land on strategic clarity, and VoSNL recently partnered with Innoweave to help do this. Over the next 3 years, they will work to define and gain clarity on VoSNL strategy to attain stated goals. “I would definitely have done this sooner.”

Watch / listen to the conversation here

About Camilo Garay


Camilo began his journey with Visions of Science as a volunteer in 2010 and grew to be a Program Facilitator several years after. He is passionate about increasing equity in the education sector, re-framing perceptions of STEM, and capacity-building in underserved communities, and looks forward to extending the reach of the organization. Camilo holds a Masters of Science in Molecular Science from Ryerson University.

About VoSNL

The Visions of Science Network for Learning (VoSNL) is a Toronto-based charitable organization that works with youth low-income and marginalized communities, and is aimed at building in more access to STEM as a means  to help shape positive development and educational achievement in this area.  The VoS Network for Learning houses several programs aimed at cultivating positive mentorship, in-school outreach, promoting leadership opportunities for members of their communities, and out of school STEM learning.

More Info on VoSNL


This survey was developed as part of the Advancing Research Impacts in Society (ARIS) Center Fellows Program supported through a grant from the NSF (#1810732). The findings and recommendations are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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