Non-profit organization Shad, which enlists high school students from across the country to develop products or solutions capable of solving a current economic or social problem, has made food security—not just its safety but also its procurement—the topic for this year’s program.
Established at the University of Waterloo in 1980 (and subsequently expanded to 12 campuses across the country), Shad provides students with a one-month enrichment program focused on the so-called STEAM subjects: science, technology, engineering, arts and math.
Participating students work in teams of eight to 12 people to design and engineer solutions that address a particular problem. Their efforts span multiple areas, including market research, writing business and marketing plans, and designing and building working prototypes.
Shad’s program directors gather each fall to decide on a topic to be tackled by the approximately 700 participants. According to Shad president and CEO Tim Jackson, the issue of food security is particularly pertinent as Canada prepares to celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2017.
“Back then everybody produced their own food—today only 3% of Canadians generate the food they eat,” says Jackson. “The program directors thought it was a great idea in terms of reflecting how the country has changed.”
This year’s program is sponsored by Maple Leaf Foods, which provides financial support (student enrolment fees for Shad cover only about half the cost of running the program, says Jackson) as well as mentorship for participating students. “They’re acting as an industry expert in an advisory capacity to the Shad teams,” says Jackson.
Lynda Kuhn, senior vice-president of sustainability and public affairs for the food company, called food security one of Canada’s most pressing social issues, with nearly 1 in 6 children facing food insecurity.
Shad counts 30 Rhodes Scholars among its 15,000 alumni. In 2010, a Shad participant named Rameez Virji designed an oral vaccine that could be used for people who are averse to needles. His idea is currently awaiting patent approval.