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ShadOnline: An interview with Tim Jackson (CEO) and Justin Lim (Program Director)

10 campuses, 20 days, 100 hours, 600 participants and countless things learned.

At the end of July 2020, I (Linda Duong), completed the very first ShadOnline program and joined a network of over 18,000 current or future entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers, doctors, artists, activists, and other world-altering Shad alumni.

Initially started as a 27-day summer program, the Shad Program offers upwards of one thousand grade 10 and 11 students the opportunity to live and work on a Canadian university’s campus (including but not limited to McMaster university, Waterloo university, and McGill university). The in-person program was cancelled in 2020 due COVID-19, but the Shad team assembled together and a few of months after, ShadOnline was announced. Exceptionally, it kept a lot of the same aspects as the original program.

With a design project that tackles a real world issue, keynote speakers, and workshops, Shad focuses on hands-on applications of STEAM and entrepreneurship—although those two subjects should not be mistaken as its only benefits. It is not an exaggeration to say that both the in-person Shad Program and ShadOnline develop nearly every soft skill: research, problem solving, communication, team work, creativity, independence, and more! Not to mention, with house teams, game sessions and more, Shads’ sense of community and care is strong, all things I will let my interviewees touch on.

A note from Tim Jackson, the CEO of SHAD Canada

I was able to briefly talk to Tim Jackson, the CEO of SHAD Canada. The program was indeed a bit different in delivery this year, but that also meant new opportunities that “in-person” Shad could not have otherwise offered:

We hope participants at ShadOnline experience how effective an online and interactive STEAM education can be – with access to academic mentors and leaders, and hands on learning opportunities with organizations like Texas Instruments. Being online was such a unique opportunity and gave us access to national leaders that may not have been available for an in-person session. This year we had live Q&As with Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, Dr. Donna Strickland, Jeff Cyr and Michele Romanow. At ShadOnline, our main goal is to create a safe environment to explore ideas, access STEAM learning and provide a diverse and open community to thrive in. And I am proud to say that based on the feedback we have received so far, we are doing just that.

An interview with Justin Lim, a program director for Shad Mount Allison

For the bulk of this piece, however, I got the opportunity to interview Justin Lim, originally the assistant program director for Shad Mount Allison, but this year, the program director for my online campus: Pleiades. The following answers are from him.

When asked what Shad means to him and what memory he finds stands out, he writes:

"Shad is like my ‘reset’ button – four weeks filled with growth, connection, and ultimately finding myself again. Shad has been a part of five of my summers, from attending Shad Valley at UBC (2013), coming back to UBC to work as a program assistant (2017), and then helping to launch Shad Mount Allison (2018, 2019), and finally with our pivot to ShadOnline (2020). And despite the fact that each of these years has been filled with completely different people, different programming, at different ends of the country – one thing has remained consistent: a collective thirst for learning and growth, and an even bigger drive towards connection with people who are just like you. It didn’t matter that this year was online (and I know all of your ShadOnline 2020 alumni are screaming inside right now), but really, it didn’t matter because the element of people didn’t change. Shads are Shads, regardless of the platform.

So – what does Shad mean to me? It’s a collective experience that brings together people from all walks of life who otherwise might not have found their way to each other, and creates a community that can be leaned on, as we all venture into the world to do big things. And I say this confidently for both Shad staff and participants. We all grow from it. There are people from each of my Shad experiences that I talk to regularly – it’s hard to find a day where I’m not checking in on/chatting with/asking for advice from/laughing with someone from one of these five Shad experiences. If that isn’t testament to the community, I don’t know what is!”

While Justin knows the community building that ShadProgram in-person offers, there are always some doubts about doing things virtually, especially for the first time. He details what he thought would be a big challenge:

“The biggest challenge that I thought we would be facing, was finding creative ways to allow Shad participants to find their footing within the program, let their personalities shine, and really foster and build community. Now that the program is over – I realize I’ve learned an important lesson as a Program Director: I should have had more faith in you Shads! You didn’t need us to worry about building a community, and I shouldn’t have seen this as a challenge. The community was built effortlessly between rounds of mafia, laughs and tears over memes, late nights working on DT projects, and (from what I hear at least…) something about

Instagram group chats! I have said this before, but Shad is about the people, and you all have reaffirmed my faith in this mantra. The program might end after a short 20 days, but I promise you – Shad doesn’t end at the end of four weeks, and that’s because the relationships don’t just disappear.

Despite some uncertainty at first, there was a constant excitement that fuelled all of the staffs’ (and the participants’) summers:

“The most exciting part of this summer was watching all of the [design teams] brainstorm, ideate, struggle and eventually come up with some really...amazing projects. It’s a special year as there was a real tangible goal (potentially sending your payload to space), and the drive I saw in all of your group meetings was pretty darn exciting and inspirational. I am so proud of what you were all able to accomplish, and only online!”

More about Justin and his current studies:

Justin is currently a third-year medical student at the University of Toronto, still determining if he wants to go into obstetrics, gynaecology or trauma surgery. What drives him is “not a ‘passion for medicine’, or ‘an interest in the ‘...insert science subject here’ – it’s the people that [he] get[s] to work with.... It’s about the mums and babies that deserve the best healthcare.” To him, the term “doctor” is very vague. He offered some advice and suggestions to aspiring doctors and workers in STEAM fields below:

“If you’re thinking to yourself, ‘I want to be a doctor’ – I want you to dig deep and think carefully about why, and if there are other careers that might fit that why. It took me a while to learn this, but medicine is a field, not a career. ‘Dr.’ is a title, not a job. The ‘why’ is SO important regardless of what you do, because it’s the only thing that will keep you going. At the end of the day, what I (will soon) do is only a career and I think it’s really important that you find a career that you are fulfilled, engaged, and able to meet your goals (whether that is providing for you and your family, making an impact on the people around you, making change in our society).

But my biggest advice that I want to impart on youth interested in STEAM, is that it’s important that you don’t lose sight of what makes you, YOU. Don’t define yourself by your career or a narrow set of interests, and make things that make you happy a priority.

For me, those things include Shad (YAY!), getting outside and camping/hiking, running and reading. I am very lucky that I’m in a career that excites me and gets me up and going in the morning, but I also think it’s important that we have things outside of our career to lean on when the going gets tough.

Right now, I’m reading a book called Braiding Sweetgrass by Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer and she has slowly and unexpectedly trickled into my life this summer and has become my biggest STEAM inspiration.

Dr. Kimmerer is an indigenous scholar and botanist, professor, scientist and a beautiful writer. She challenges us to redefine how we view the world and view science, and I think it’s so important that we listen to her advice. We are all taught a very narrow understanding of STEAM...and we forget that we are living in a world where science is happening around us every minute...She challenges us to redefine our relationship with the world and the earth – and in doing so, we might be able to redefine our relationships with one another. I think we have a lot to learn from her, and so I encourage you all to pick up her book and give it a read! I hope she inspires you the way she has inspired me.”

Final Thoughts

You can learn more about Shad at https://www.shad.ca/about-shad/! If you're heading into grade 10 or grade 11 this September , keep an eye out for next year’s Shad Program by joining their mailing list (because it is 100% completely and honestly worth it, and everyone who participated in this article can vouch for it)! Although its focus is on STEAM and entrepreneurship, Shad is for everyone looking to make a difference or learn something new. You can also check them out @shadprogram on Instagram, @ShadNetwork on Twitter and @ShadProgram on Facebook.

Featured image courtesy of Shad Canada.

Interviewer and Article Author: Linda Duong

Article Editor: Olivia Ye