Digital skills are essential tools for living in an increasingly digital world. To that end, youth in Kingston are positioned to thrive, thanks to a new program that will teach them the fundamentals of data science, artificial intelligence (AI) and digital literacy.

Queen’s Connections Engineering Outreach, an award-winning initiative that connects local youth and schools with STEM education resources, will train local kids — with a special emphasis on young women — in this vital area. They will teach young people about AI applications, including machine learning, facial recognition, healthcare, ethics and cybersecurity.

The Connections team is supported in these efforts by a $140,000 grant from Scale AI, a national non-profit that aims to establish an ecosystem which will position Canada as one of the world leaders in AI. Building such an ecosystem requires a skilled workforce with advanced knowledge and abilities in AI and in digital intelligence. To meet that goal, Scale AI established the STEM Youth Awareness Program.

“At a time when there is still a shortage of skilled AI workers, our programs are designed to enable the training of experts through both initial and continuing education,” says Julien Billot, Executive Director of Scale AI. “The Youth Awareness program is part of our long-term vision to enable high school students and those who must make a career choice to assess all the opportunities offered by careers in the overall STEM family, in general, and AI in particular.”

Connections, the youth outreach unit within the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, aims to educate, inspire, and raise the profile of the engineering profession and STEM-related knowledge and skills among K-12 students, educators, parents, and the public. Annually, Connections provides Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) outreach and learning opportunities for approximately 10,000 youth and is well positioned to support Scale AI in achieving its goals.

The Connections team has been at work developing new workshops and resources as part of the Scale AI STEM Youth Awareness Program which focus on building digital literacy capacity for youth. These workshops will be integrated into the ongoing in-school, all-girl, and community programming, as well as unique events throughout the year. Part of the funding from Scale AI will help ensure that the Connections team can provide free workshops to the Kingston community.

“As the demand for competence in digital literacy continues to grow across Canada, it is critical that we increase the number and quality of learning opportunities for youth,” says Scott Compeau, Manager of Queen’s Connections Engineering Outreach. “Thanks to the partnership with Scale AI, the funding will help us to increase the awareness and accessibility of data science and AI for youth within the Kingston community, while supporting them to build their own capacity in these important areas.”