A new program run out of Waterloo Engineering Outreach’s Women in Engineering program offers online and one-on-one tutoring sessions to students of all genders in advanced functions, calculus, chemistry, and physics—subjects that are key if students want to pursue a post-secondary engineering program. 

The Hive Mind program was originally conceived in late 2020 by Angela Pause, a senior writer with the engineering faculty’s advancement team, and a part-time student of Waterloo’s Master of Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology (MBET) program. Pause learned, while working on an MBET assignment, that epidemics can negatively impact a girl’s academic performance as they take on more familial responsibilities.  

"One day you’re a high school student and the next day you are also looking after siblings who are now at home because in-person learning is cancelled," she says. “Women already have systemic barriers to entry in STEM programs and I didn’t want this pandemic to be one more obstacle standing in their way. I work in Canada’s largest engineering school where we have an amazing outreach team, so I figured we could find a way to help struggling students.”

With help from Waterloo Engineering Outreach members, and with the full support of Mary Wells, Dean of Waterloo Engineering, Pause’s initial concept was developed into the Hive Mind program, which was launched in February 2021.  

The program provides online group and one-to-one sessions to high school students of all genders who want help understanding fundamental concepts. The tutoring is led by Learning Assistants, who are first-year and second-year engineering students and for whom this counts as a paid coop work term. These ‘near peer’ Learning Assistants have themselves succeeded in these challenging subjects and have experienced remote or hybrid learning personally, which allows them to better understand the challenges that the high school students are facing. 

 “Hive Mind is about making sure that we reduce barriers for anyone who is interested in pursuing engineering studies. We know that COVID has disproportionately affected women and that includes young women and women-identifying folk at the high school level,” says Mary Robinson, Associate Dean of Outreach, Equity and Inclusion, Faculty of Engineering. 

Since launching, a little more than 60 per cent of Hive Mind participants have been high school students who identify as female. And because the program is marketed to only high school students that have fewer resources than large Greater Toronto Area (GTA) school boards may have, Hive Mind is able to reach rural communities that may not have other learning supports available.  

Thus far, the feedback from participating students has been highly positive. Ninety-eight per cent of participants said that Hive Mind ‘met their needs,’ and 96 per cent rated their one-to-one tutoring sessions as ‘very good’ or ‘excellent.’ 

Though Hive Mind is hosted under the Women in Engineering banner, it is not associated with Waterloo Engineering recruitment or advancement and is intended simply to be a bridge for success in STEM. The program is meant to be a purely humanitarian response to students who need assistance to improve their understanding of core concepts that will enable them to pursue a STEM educational program at any post-secondary institution.  

As pandemic restrictions ease, Waterloo Engineering Outreach is looking to continue Hive Mind. They are currently looking for industry/corporate sponsors to allow for the expansion of Hive Mind into several library locations where they already have partnerships to allow students to access laptops and internet as well as hosting in-person sessions at the library locations.  

Learn more about Hive Mind on the University of Waterloo website.