Okanagan science, tech and ed sectors team up to fuel the economy of the future

Penticton symposium to gather and share ideas for getting more kids buzzed about math and science

Will enough of today's children grow up to be engineers and scientists to keep Canada's economy booming when the nation's Baby Boomers -- now approaching their senior years -- have retired from their math- and science-intensive careers?

Dick Fletcher, a professional engineer in Kelowna and partner in the firm Urban Systems Ltd., and colleagues from schools, industry and government in B.C.'s Okanagan region aren't leaving things to chance.

"Competition for science and engineering talent is intensifying worldwide," says Fletcher, who is the new president of Engineers Canada, the national body representing Canada's more than 160,000 professional engineers. "The number of high school graduates entering post-secondary programs in sciences or in engineering is declining, and a significant number of our senior engineers are approaching retirement."

To take on the challenge of a looming skills shortage in science and engineering, Okanagan education and industry partners are holding the first-ever Fuelling the Economy of the Future symposium, October 24 and 25 in Penticton. Organizers want to heighten awareness of engineering, science and technology education, and build stronger connections between the kindergarten-to-PhD education system and industry.

"It's all about networking -- establishing good communication and connections between people working in fields such as engineering, and the teachers who will prepare tomorrow's applied scientists," says Fletcher. "We hope building that network will lead to seeing more youngsters buzzed about math and science and about becoming future engineers."

Organizing the symposium are UBC Okanagan's School of Engineering, Okanagan College, Central Okanagan School District 23, the Okanagan Science and Technology Council, the Okanagan Research and Innovation Centre, and the Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission.

"It is unusual for such a diverse group of educators, administrators, and industry representatives to gather to discuss how to attract and retain students in these vital fields," says Spiro Yannacopoulos, Associate Dean and Director of UBC Okanagan's School of Engineering. "We know it is crucial for the health of our local and national economies to keep our students enrolled in science, engineering, and technology programs."

Yannacopoulos says the symposium will gather together a wide variety of people committed to instructing and inspiring students, at all stages of their education in engineering, science, and technology.

"The topic is of urgent importance," he says, "and those who attend will be taking a vital step towards attracting students into engineering, science, technology education, and subsequent careers."

The two-day symposium -- part of Canada's National Science and Technology Week -- has been scheduled to include the Okanagan region’s professional development day for teachers. It will feature several prominent keynote speakers including Nobel laureate physicist Carl Wieman (by video), and Bruce Aikenhead, retired director-general of the Canadian Astronaut Program.

Complete details about the Fuelling the Economy of the Future symposium and registration information can be found online at http://www.ubc.ca/okanagan/engineering/fef.

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