Fanshawe student wins $5K to bring her idea to life

Header image for the article Fanshawe student wins $5K to bring her idea to life Credit: DENISE LOVE
Natalie Tyson running a STEAM activity table.

Natalie Tyson is a fourth-year student in Fanshawe’s Honours Bachelor of Early Childhood Leadership. As part of that program, Tyson had to complete an internship. Her internship was at the STEAM (Science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) Education Centre in St. Thomas, Ont.

Tyson saw firsthand how vulnerable families feel disconnected from varying events and services in the communities. So, she came up with the idea to start STEAM camps to bring the community together and help everyone feel included. This idea won her an Ontario Community Changemakers microgrant of $5,000 and leadership development and training to bring her idea to life.

“From my personal experience, I learn best through hands-on learning,” said Tyson. “Working with children in the field, I saw that they are more engaged in programs that are enriching and stimulating to them. STEAM is a perfect way to do that. You’re engaging in math without even knowing it 99 per cent of the time. I hope that families and the community all bridge together.”

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She is planning these camps at local businesses within St. Thomas, like at the Elgin County Railway Museum, the senior’s centre, and in Oneida First Nations of the Thames. Tyson has been working with the Indigenous STEAM education program.

“I’m hoping that they come out to the community to engage in those hands-on interactive STEAM-based activities, engage with other family members, and just look at the resources and supports available in St. Thomas.”

One of Tyson’s requirements for these camps is that she wants to be working firsthand with these families.

“I will be there working alongside them, instructing them, letting them take the flow on their ideas, especially with younger children. It’s hard to keep them engaged long enough if you’re sitting there instructing them. So the really neat thing with the STEAM family camps is that they can do whatever they want. There’s no right or wrong answer, it’s what they interpret from it.”

Tyson wants to get everybody in the family involved, including seniors. Some projects she plans on doing with families are a constellation projector, making 3D glasses, and creating a buzzing bee.

“Children get the opportunity to learn how bees work and what the buzzing actually means and where it comes from. I’ve also been looking at genetics, fruit DNA extraction. So children are going to learn how to extract DNA from fruit, learn what it is, what our DNA is, and where we come from.”

When it came to winning the grant, she didn’t think she would win.

“I did not expect my little idea from a pandemic to branch off and become so surreal. It was just one idea I had in my internship that is now transforming over a year-long project. I was reading some of the other applicants, their projects are way above and beyond with environmental science, engineering, with the LGBTQ community, and just for St. Thomas, the city that nothing really happens in, gets this $5,000 grant, not only for families but for the whole community. I kind of jumped up and freaked out when I got the email.”

Tyson is hoping her project will be implemented by next spring. She wants to ensure everything is safe with pandemic restrictions and allow as many people as possible to benefit from her camps.