A not-for-profit, not possible without youth

Science Atlantic uses recent grads to support scientific research

FROM LEFT: Luke Vincent, Michelle McPherson and Science Atlantic executive director Lois Whitehead.

you’ve been wondering where you can get your hands on a Smart Six-axis Short-arm Robot, you may have come up short. You certainly won’t find one of those at your local Canadian Tire.

If you study or work in science, though, it’s at your fingertips, thanks to an equipment database of electronic microscopes, 3D printers, molecular imagers and other specialized equipment that’s housed by a small non-profit organization called Science Atlantic.

Science Atlantic supports scientific research and education by connecting researchers, faculty and students at 16 Atlantic Canadian universities.

The small team facilitates collaboration in aquaculture, computer science, nutrition, physics and half a dozen other disciplines by managing committees, academic conferences and the Atlantic Facilities and Research Equipment Database (AFRED), which was developed by a computer science co-op student from Acadia University. And virtually all this work is being led by students and fresh graduates.

“What the students and grads are contributing here is what makes the organization work,” says Lois Whitehead, the Executive Director of Science Atlantic. “Hiring youth that have a skillset from being fresh in school, and knowing that they are keen and want to learn, is so valuable to us.”

Lois hired recent StFX graduate Michelle McPherson to manage the conferences, lead a new inclusion project, and provide AFRED demonstrations to users and potential clients.

“Working here you get a good sense of a community network,” says Michelle. “I did research in my master’s so I am also applying skills that I gained there. But what I really love is providing support for students who are doing a Science degree. It is a way of giving back to students in the same position I was in not that long ago.”

For non-profits and small organizations like Science Atlantic, hiring new staff doesn’t always come easy. That’s why Lois applied for the Graduate to Opportunity (GTO) program within two weeks of it being launched.

GTO provides a salary incentive to Nova Scotia employers who hire recent post-secondary graduates for new jobs. Eligible employers receive 25% of the grad’s first year salary — 35% if the grad is a member of a designated diversity group — and 12.5% of the grad’s second year salary from the province.

“Originally, I had two jobs mashed into one because that was all I could afford,” says Lois. “But I was able to hire Michelle and create a better split of the work. GTO really opened the door for us to think about having another full-time person.”

Lois also used the province’s Student Summer Skills Incentive (SKILL) program to hire a SMU student to take on a business analyst role this summer.

“Luke has probably the most analytical mind of anyone I have ever met,” says Lois. “On his first day I asked him to do some research into pricing models for software services. ‘Just do what you can; we are going to talk about it tomorrow. It doesn’t need to be formal,’ I said. At 4:15 p.m. he gave me a three-page formatted document with an outline of the results and requirements, seven models — pros and cons and how he saw them applying to our project — complete with conclusion and recommendations. He did this in six hours on his first day. He has just been that person all summer.”

Luke Vincent’s favorite thing about his summer job is having the opportunity to make an impact.

“The new project that I am working on, I get to shape how it goes forward. So even if not all my recommendations are taken, I can still see the influence I’ve had on the direction it’s going. I really like that. In other jobs you might be doing a lot of the grunt work and not see that impact.”

Lois believes that Science Atlantic thrives because of the youthful dynamic. Most of the students and graduates develop real ownership of their projects, and can walk away saying they led the development or implementation of a substantial activity.

If you are a small business, non-profit, social enterprise, start-up or registered charity, GTO can help you hire fresh young minds. Learn more here.

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