SHAD Spotlight: Victoria Iannotti



I just had a summer I will never forget, one that I know will impact me for many years to come. And I have my dad and SHAD to thank. Unfortunately, SHAD has flown under the radar of many people in Quebec. But it is truly a life changing summer program.


SHAD is a summer program for students with a passion for science, technology, engineering and math, as well as art, design, business, entrepreneurship and innovation. Before going, all I knew about SHAD were these words, however the experience was so much more; more than I could have ever imagined. SHAD gives students (in grades 10, 11 and 12/CEGEP I in Quebec), from across Canada, the opportunity to attend the program at one of 16 host universities (now including McGill University in Montreal!). I was selected to attend the program at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario.  Before SHAD, I didn’t even know where Thunder Bay was and now I have some of my most special memories from there.


When the big day came and I left for Thunder Bay, I must admit I was very excited but also nervous.  Once I arrived, I saw that I wasn’t the only one feeling this way. There were 59 other kids from across Canada, from big cities to small rural communities, in the same boat as me. It didn’t take long for those nervous feelings to subside.  



My average day at SHAD began with a variety of university level lectures on science and entrepreneurship led by university professors and local business leaders. The lectures varied from topics about neurology and orthopedics (one of my favourites) to axiomatic design and physics. The afternoons included fitness activities, workshops and field trips to local industries. And the evenings offered us time to work on our team projects.


On weekends, we had the chance to explore and visit local attractions. One of our outings was a hiking and camping trip to the Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, where the breathtaking views outweighed the many mosquito bites. As a city girl, this outing totally blew me away and I left with a new appreciation for the outdoors.  This is what SHAD is all about – new experiences.



SHAD pushed me out of my comfort zone.  It allowed me to see all of the amazing things that can be accomplished when people put their minds together. A big aspect of SHAD is hands on learning through a design and engineering challenge which tasks us to come up with an original product to solve a real world problem. This year’s theme was reducing an individual’s energy footprint. It was empowering to work on a problem that many professionals and really amazing people around the world are trying to solve. At first, it seemed impossible for a group of 11 students to solve such a problem, but when we put our heads together and understood each other’s strengths, we came up with something amazing.


Our product, Carbon Crush, is an app that will educate people on their own personal carbon footprint and enable them to take positive action to reduce it. It is a convenient and interactive platform that enables users to purchase and gift carbon offsets, as well as compare their carbon consumption with that of their friends, family and community. This carbon offset market is paired with various other features in order to foster a new generation of environmentally conscious and carbon-neutral renters of the world - us.  I’m not saying that we saved the world in one month - not at all - but we did come up with a product that could help, designed a business plan for it, and pitched it to judges. It was almost like a mini-Dragon’s Den, in fact Michele Romanow from CBC’s Dragon’s Den is a SHAD Fellow. Just having completed the task was worth the long nights and the many coffee runs. In the end, my team won the local competition at Lakehead and was selected to represent our campus at the national innovation awards and the SHAD Cup in Toronto in October. 



During my month at SHAD I got the opportunity to meet, Hon. Patty Hajdu, Federal Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, to discuss our ideas for promoting youth volunteerism. I was also interviewed along with Tim Jackson, President and CEO of SHAD, by CBC Thunder Bay about the program, what was happening at SHAD, and my experience with Patty Hajdu. I was nervous about speaking to Patty Hajdu and then speaking about her on live radio but all in all it was a great learning experience and I was really honored to have had these incredible opportunities. 




In addition, to the university portion of the program, SHAD provides a select number of students with access to a 4 to 6 week internship. I got the opportunity for an internship at Nuance Communications. I spent 6 weeks using the skills and knowledge that I had received in my first year in the Computer Science and Mathematics program at Collège de Bois-de-Boulogne and at Royal West Academy High School. I contributed to technology that would be used in Virtual Assistants inside Automobiles. I worked on the artificial intelligence and natural language understanding solutions for making phone calls and sending messages from inside a vehicle. The internship was stressful, educational and fun! Somedays were pretty overwhelming when I had bugs to work out and it took me hours to find an error in my code; but I guess I had better get used to that if I pursue a career in programming as planned. I really got the chance to experience what it’s like to have a full time job and live the life of an engineer in a big company. 



All in all, SHAD was an amazing and life changing experience! I left the program with new friendships and bonds that can’t be broken by the distance between us because we now have this great experience that will keep us together. Now, my friends live all over Canada, from BC to Newfoundland. From the very first day, I felt like I belonged and was surrounded by like-minded wonderful and amazing people who really understood me.



Thanks to my dad who went to SHAD UNB in 1988 and encouraged me to apply, I have these memories and experiences that will forever impact my future and goals.  That’s why I feel SHAD is something I can’t keep to myself. (until November 20)




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