On Wednesday of the first week of Shad2024, an enthusiastic response rang out from Shads from coast to coast as they learned the theme of their Design Project: challenge accepted!

Every year, Shads are challenged to use their innovation and creative thinking skills to generate solutions to a pressing global issue using STEAM and entrepreneurship. The Design Project motivates them to believe in their own ability to influence positive change in the world and see themselves as community changemakers. This summer, they have been tasked with finding ways to help youth in Canada integrate affordable and reliable green energy sources into their everyday lives to create more sustainable communities.

The Shads were eager to get started, already anticipating the ways they’ll tackle this important problem. “I’m looking forward the most to building simple prototypes with my team. I love seeing ideas manifest into something tangible,” shared Matthew Sun, a student from Richmond Hill, Ontario, joining Shad’s digital campus, ShadAnyhwere, this summer.

Matthew Sun, Richmond Hill, ON

To help get them started, the Shads heard from a panel of four exceptional field experts who have dedicated their careers to solving sustainability problems and working to create a greener, more community-focused Canada. On the panel was Ian Rolston, founder of Decanthropy, a collaborative equity design and innovation studio focused on making systems, strategies, and spaces more human; Jennifer Littlejohns, a biochemical engineer currently working as the Program Director for the Advanced Clean Energy Program at Canada’s National Research Council; Abhilash Kantamneni, an electrical engineer who leads research and policy advocacy on energy poverty and home energy contractor business models at Efficiency Canada; and Zhaodi Culbreath, who previously led the national strategy for public charging station deployment with Tesla.

Shad2024 green energy panelists and experts. From left to right: Ian Rolston, Jennifer Littlejohns, Abhilash Kantamneni, and Zhaodi Culbreath.

Access to field experts is an important part of the program. It offers the Shads crucial insights into advanced subject matters and post-secondary experiences that help them build important skills and expand their mindset. The Shads listened as the expert panel shared important insights on the topics of green energy research and development, sustainability initiatives, and the kind of work being done to move the ball forward on climate action. The Shads were also able to ask their own inspired questions, which helped to get them thinking about how they might approach the design challenge.

Khushman Buttar from Winnipeg, Manitoba, asked the experts if adopting green energy should be a gradual transition or a rapid shift, and if a complete reliance on green energy is plausible.

“I recently did a project on the topic of the green energy transition, and this was a question I had mulled over throughout the process. I was eager to gain insights and perspectives from the panel as they are professionals in the field and can provide valuable viewpoints,” Khushman shared.

One of the panelists, Jennifer, shared that because so much of our green energy transition needs rely on technology that has yet to be fully developed, there remains a significant need for innovation in this field, which got the Shads excited about how they might imagine their own design solutions to help continue the progress.

Ariana Lalji, Oakville, ON

Ariana Lalji hoped the panelists could help resolve some conflicting narratives she had heard about green energy. Namely, the idea that in trying to be green, we may be doing irreparable damage to the environment, such as the damage done mining for the minerals necessary for electric vehicle batteries and other clean energy technologies. “I really wanted to ask the experts their views on how to address this paradox.”

This sparked a lively discussion about the need to rethink how we organize our communities instead of looking for “cleaner” ways to continue the same behaviours that have landed us in a climate crisis. The Shads were encouraged to imagine a world that operates differently than the one they currently live in, to embrace bold thinking that pushes the existing boundaries.

Surabi Shiva, joining ShadAnywhere from India this summer!

“The panel discussion opened my eyes to how the right solution really depends on the location, culture, people and a lot of different factors. I look forward to incorporating this knowledge into my team’s design project as we try to cater to different environments and communities,” noted Surabi Shiva, reflecting on how the experts encouraged her to think outside the box. 

Sarah Wu also felt the impact of the expert’s words.

“All the panelists were insightful, but one statement really touched me, when Ian Rolston shared that he, “…[encourages] his children and others to actively design the future”. As an individual, I always wanted to be actively involved in contributing to a holistic living environment. Rolston’s words shaped my mindset for this year’s design challenge, helping me to be open-minded, to think about the endless possibilities of youth to contribute to living sustainably.”

Sarah Wu, Oakville, ON

Exploring possibility is exactly what the Shads did last year when they were asked to reimagine living spaces for people living in Canada in ways that increase sustainability, accessibility, and community connection. The students at Shad2023 approached the challenge from multiple angles, using what they had learned from the experts they heard from during the program to inform their design solutions. Some approached the problem from an engineering standpoint, developing the EcoBrick, a product that reuses plastic waste to manufacture safe and durable building bricks, while others took a technology-focused approach by designing an app to help the visually impaired navigate their local grocery stores.

Shad2023 Design Project “Re-Vision”, an app that helps the visually impaired identify grocery items

This expansive and inclusive approach to design thinking by last year’s Shads is also reflected in how our current Shads are thinking about the challenge.

“The challenge is “how might we help youth in Canada…”, not “how might we help some youth in Canada…”, so gaining insight from the panelists about how we might make green energy easily accessible for all Canadians provides us with crucial information,” said Mary Oyeyode, a Shad from Winnipeg, Manitoba, about what information is needed to create viable solutions.

Mary Oyeyode, Winnipeg, MN

No doubt this year’s projects will be just as thoughtful and innovative, with the excitement palpable as the discussion wrapped up and the Shads mulled the exhilarating work in front of them. With the panelists words of advice in mind, they will set out to tackle a challenge that feels particularly relevant to younger generations, once again demonstrating the excellence and ingenuity of Shads.

“The protection of the environment and implementation of green energy is a global responsibility… the Shads and I have been inspired to tackle this issue from new angles,” shared Matthew.

We can’t wait to see what they come up with!

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