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“I’ve always thought that coding apps was about sitting in front of a computer all day and doing boring stuff like typing all day. This program showed us that there’s a lot more that goes into [app design]. You can write it all out, design it, draw it, and use creativity. There’s a lot more variety than you think. I definitely think [technology] is an option for me.” Caley Hilderman, Sustainable Start (Source: Global News)

School looks different in the age of Covid-19, which is why Marion M. Graham Collegiate Institute (MMGCI) partnered with TCS to find safe alternatives for students to engage with local business leaders and industry experts through goIT. This February, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) partnered with Nutrien - a Saskatoon-based global agricultural company whose mission is to help growers increase food production safely and sustainably - to bring the community into the classroom. 

With the program theme of Improving Your Community, a group of 27, grade 9 students started ideating ways to solve Saskatoon’s most pressing issues through the lens of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. After narrowing in on a problem they were most passionate about, students ideated mobile app proposals that would solve or address their chosen problem. Prior to diving into their own creations, though, students had the opportunity to hear inspiring stories from two women in IT about their profession and career paths, both of whom inspired students to continue pursuing their own journeys in technology.

“Technology is for everyone and doesn’t fit just one IT mold. Careers can be made, and you don’t have to fit a certain mold. The careers in technology are quite diverse and are available to everyone,” said Nutrien’s Anna Weegar, Manager, Connect Worker.

TCS’s Priyanka Goel, Sub ISU Head of Agriculture and Manufacturing, went on to say, “The basic skills that you learn this week, combined with today’s disruptive technologies, will help you pursue a tech career in any industry.”

After a week of digital innovation, students created pitches for their app ideas before presenting them to a panel of distinguished judges including Colleen MacPherson – Ward 5 Trustee and Board Chair of the Saskatoon Public Schools Division, Todd Antill – Director, IT Nitrogen, Phosphate and Potash at Nutrien, and Jayanta Tripathi – TCS Client Relationship Manager.

The showcase ended with the selection of the top three app ideas – each one targeting different community needs local to Saskatoon or nationally to Canada. The winning apps were:

Sustainable Start: Focuses on helping users learn how to live sustainably in a fun and gamified way. Users would also have a platform to organize local community events such as trash clean ups and fundraising events. 

Find Them Food: An app idea to help reduce the amount of food waste and promote food pick up and donations to low-income families and homeless neighborhoods.

Balamino: Creates a community platform where trans people can share their struggles through forums, chatting and informational sessions. This would also be opened up to those wanting to learn more about the trans community.

At the end of the program, excitement and energy from our students, teachers, and industry experts was palpable. 

Karen Peterson, the Principal of MMGCI said, “We would like to continue with the program each year! The lessons from goIT will stay with those participating in the event. As we emerge from COVID, I can see many possibilities that I am excited for.” 

Volunteers shared in the excitement of the program’s impact on students and themselves. Nutrien’s Brock Bernatow said, “It felt good to assist our future generation with taking a concept from being just an idea in their head to something that excites others.” 

TCS volunteer Rhys Sosnowski said, “It’s incredibly important that we as a company provide insight and perspective into the sometimes confusing, and intimidating world of technology, and foster a sense of creative drive in the next generation!” 

After the program, Nutrien’s Senior Manager of Digital Transformation, Justin Stade, sent a video encouraging the students to continue on a path towards technology. He said, “I was very impressed with watching the presentations and everyone did a phenomenal job! I love that you got, going through this program, and understanding of the process of building an application. Technology is going to be a big piece of everyone’s lives. Considering being a part of [the technology field] is a really great thing."

February’s program is just one of many events to be held  in Saskatoon. Nutrien and TCS will be partnering again to bring goIT to MMGCI in June and will continue to work together to engage its students and serve its students in the Saskatoon community.