We are very excited to bring you a new interview for our #FoundersFriday blog series! If you’ve missed our previous posts, Founders Friday is a forum in which we interview the founders of different businesses, asking them to share their advice for others and their perspective on their industry as a whole.

Dr. Sacha Noukhovitch is a STEM education and student research expert and is also an Executive director of the STEM Fellowship, a Canadian non-profit organization that prepares the next generation for STEM with vital skills in data science and scholarly writing through peer mentorship and a practical learning experience. He is a practicing educator implementing data science education at Earl Haig Secondary School, Toronto. He started his career as an electrical engineer in the nuclear power industry and obtained his PhD in Management theory from Moscow State University.

Can you tell us about your career to date and how you founded the STEM fellowship and the STEM fellowship journal?

I started my career as an electrical engineer/researcher in the nuclear power industry and quickly realized that my academic interests lay in the field of human interaction with Information Technology – that lead me to do a PhD in Management Theory.

I was drawn to public education when I discovered that a new generation of students have a unique relationship with information and communication technology. Today’s students are natural data scientists as well as digital learners. Moreover, they have their own body of knowledge and expertise in dealing with information that they share and develop as a community.

I thought that like astrophysicists, psychologists or any other academic community, they would need a society that would unite the most motivated among them, helping to define and consolidate knowledge about student-driven education, collective expertise and other novel forms of knowledge accumulation that are unique to this generation of learners.

That was the beginning of the STEM Fellowship which started with three students recruited at the University of Toronto, University of Calgary and the University of British Columbia. Currently, we are present on 17 university campuses across the country with over 250 student executives, branch presidents and editors that lead various STEM Fellowship programs.

This new knowledge community needed a scholarly resource of its own and it was only logical to approach the biggest and most established national academic publisher for support. With the help and guidance from Canadian Science Publishing, we publish the Open Access STEM Fellowship Journal entirely dedicated to original high school and undergraduate student research.

Why work with young students? What are you trying to accomplish?

Today’s students are the driving force behind knowledge-based community sites and social networks like Quora, Reddit, Papers We Love, etc. These are new forms of science communication and learning delivered through collective and collaborative contributions of knowledge community members. Analysis of these innovative practices allowed me to develop a new digital learner-oriented pedagogical model that implements the following principles:

  • Tapping into answers and accumulating information by association
  • Crowdsourcing data interpretations and knowledge references
  • Accelerated critical thinking and learning within peer-groups and knowledge-sharing social networks, which provides a unique opportunity of non-verbal intro and trans-generational exchange of information and ideas

I want to see public education institutions adopt the digital learner-oriented model to enable today’s students to achieve their full academic potential. I believe that the way education is delivered today no longer fits how students acquire knowledge, and by adapting to a digital learner-oriented model, we will see more innovation and excellence from the growing generation and as a result, our society will thrive.

Can you give examples of what students have gone onto do?

Over the past four years we have accumulated a wealth of student research papers and abstracts presenting a range of ideas covering urban issues, the future of science, and sustainable development – these came out of the Big Data inquiry and the experiential learning program. This program attracts the best and the brightest of high school students from across the Americas to be mentored by their university peers and top-notch data scientists.

I designed it based on the principles of the digital learner-oriented model and with the goal of giving students an opportunity to discover and demonstrate their analytical and scholarly communication talents.

A good example of a study would be one that was conducted by four girls from a public high school. They authored the research paper Diving into Debt: A Study on Factors Related to Debt Risk Score in Toronto – among other findings, they identified that “an age-adjusted rate of people who received breast cancer screening had a negative correlation with increased debt risk”. I find that fascinating from a public health perspective.

What problems still exist in the learning experience?

It is obvious that the current class and curriculum organized learning process does not leave much room for digital learners’ learning style and the new pedagogy I am working on.

Successful transition to student-driven education requires significant institutional and organizational changes. It means moving away from the conventional lesson plan and course structure as well as modifications to the organizational aspects that would permit different relations between administrators, educators and students.

Where would you like to take this in the future?

In the case of the STEM Fellowship and STEM Fellowship Journal, I am the lucky founder who can be relaxed about the future lifespan of these organizations. These are student-driven organizations and they will grow with the digital learners.

My focus will continue to be on giving motivated, young people a voice and connecting them with influential members of the academic community. I would like the successes of students who are a part of STEM Fellowship to be shared and publicized so that they serve as an example of the power of a digital learner-oriented education.

Follow @STEM_Fellowship to hear about their latest news and more.