Coding, 3D modelling, big data: Mathstronauts in Hamilton
Like many 12-year-olds, Jonathan Szarak likes to play video games. But he’s also spent the last two years teaching himself how to make them.
The Grade 7 student uses Python, a programming language, to code games, including player movement and weapons systems.
“One day I just thought ‘maybe I can do this,’” said Jonathan, who lives on the central Mountain. “It took me a while, but eventually I decided to try and learn Python, then I found videos and I figured some stuff out.”
Jonathan is one of five local kids who participated in a summer mentorship program run by Hamilton organization Mathstronauts, which teaches STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills to youth. They were paired with engineers and analysts at industry partner General Motors.
“Some of our students wanted to learn how to code in a new programing language … others worked on 3D modelling projects, or I think one of our students was really interested in data, so how to work with scripts on Excel and how to handle big pieces of data,” said executive director Sehrish Zehra.
Jonathan’s goal was to work through an entry-level C++ — another programming language — course with his mentor. He also got to tour the GM Canadian Technical Centre in Markham on the last day of his mentorship.
The program, designed for youth in middle school, is application-based, and the essential requirement is a genuine interest in STEM. Applicants should also be previous participants in a Mathstronauts’ program, which are available to kids from Grades 4 to 12. The organization also runs in-class sessions through partnerships with local school boards.
Zehra said the one-on-one format is a “very valuable experience” for youth as they start to think about their professional interests and futures.
“These are young kids, so they’re not out there applying for official jobs yet, but planting that seed early and having somebody who’s been through that path guide you can be quite life-changing,” she said.
The pilot program, which ran for four to six weeks over the summer, ended in August. Given its success, the organization plans to run it again this school year, she said.
Richard Hamilton, the organization’s president and software engineer at GM, said the mentorship was “designed to provide opportunity for the students to get to interact with real-world people in the STEM field.”
“These people can give them real-life examples, share their journey, help them with any struggles they might be going through, give them a different perspective, talk about the things they’ve been through and how they overcome,” he said.
But Hamilton also said it aims to inspire.
“Now they have somebody that they can relate to and they can see that, ‘Oh, this person is doing cool stuff, and they were able to do it,’” he said. “It’s hard work and everything, but anybody can do it if they just put their mind to it.”
Interested students and their families can sign up for the Mathstronauts newsletter at https://mathstronauts.ca/contact-us/ and keep an eye out for an announcement in the coming months.