With the goal of increasing representation in the global extended reality (XR) community, Centre for Digital Media (CDM) is partnering with Ethọ́s Lab to increase the representation of Black youth in XR-based digital futures. Now in the first year of their five-year commitment, Ethọ́s Lab and CDM are on track to exceed their initial goal to train 300+ underrepresented youth and 190+ high school educators.
Ethọ́s Lab is a Black-Led organization in Vancouver, British Columbia, creating a network of community-driven Innovation Hubs for youth in Grades 5-12. “I started Ethọ́s Lab because I recognized the need to provide access for all young people, but especially Black youth, to science, technology, engineering, applied art and math (S.T.E.A.M) skills and address needs like belonging and self-worth”, says Anthonia Ogundele, Founder and Executive Director at Ethọ́s Lab. “Integral to our model is the fusion of culture and interdisciplinary S.T.E.A.M programming providing youth with a safe space and the core skills for post-secondary admissions and careers to create a more inclusive future.”
Ethọ́s Lab’s innovative educational model is designed to meet the diverse needs of youth today. Increasing diversity requires creativity and the need to incorporate different cultures as a vehicle to contextualize S.T.E.A.M learning in unique ways youth can identify with. One example is the Blackathon, where BIPOC and female high school students were tasked with a Black innovation design challenge—in this case the mailbox. Students created a prototype that addressed the increase in package theft, then presented their work and articulated the impact of their innovation. This event spotlighted a Black inventor, then encouraged students to solve the problem of package theft within the context of building an inclusive future.
Ismail, a student who participated in the Blackathon described the impact the event had left on him. “This is what an inclusive future looks like to me, a future where everyone can be whoever and whatever they want to be. I feel so inspired to see my own kind of people be successful, and I want to chase my dreams, my passion, so that I can be as successful as possible.”
CDM recognizes that increasing representation in the global XR community requires an accessible ecosystem of like-minded organizations, which is why the partnership with Ethọ́s Lab will help advance the representation of underrepresented people in the XR-based futures.
“By leveraging the infrastructure, people, and knowledge at CDM, we will be able to develop and deliver XR curriculum that have scale and build capacity for underrepresented youth,” says Anthonia. “With CDM’s support and amplification of our work, we are able to establish linkages that are necessary for advanced study and success at the post-secondary level.”
“This partnership aims to address the acute shortage of Black and other underrepresented professionals in the S.T.E.A.M fields of practice and increase gender diversity, particularly in senior and executive level roles,” says Mary Lim, Director of Programs and Innovation at CDM. “The creative technology industry needs increased representation in professional XR roles to grow and scale diverse, culturally minded content and IP within the immersive technology ecosystem.”
The world continues to change quickly, and emerging technologies will influence what the future looks like, and who it will be built for. By empowering youth to see themselves as difference makers able to shape the future, we help build one that includes and reflects everyone. Partnerships like these have immeasurable impact on youth, as one parent explained:
“Not only did [my child] learn new S.T.E.A.M skills but she grew in confidence immeasurably. [She] saw herself represented and welcomed as she immersed herself in the warm, diverse community. She has been inspired to truly dream big by the Black excellence she witnessed. I feel emotional thinking about what Ethọ́s Lab has done for my child.”
This partnership was made possible by Unity and Meta’s XR Innovation Grant, which are awarded to organizations to increase access to AR/VR hardware, high-quality educational content, and other resources that will help educators create or enhance innovative XR programs.
“We recognize that the demand for XR talent is increasing rapidly,” says Jessica Lindl, VP Education and Social Impact at Unity. “That’s why we awarded Ethọ́s Lab and CDM with this grant to design innovative educational content for underserved learners, which will equip the next generation with the skills necessary for future jobs”.