Empower The Future helps Surrey youth tackle post-secondary challenges

Workshop group at L.A. Matheson Secondary School.

A team of Surrey post-secondary students are helping students from inner-city schools build their knowledge about challenges they might face after high school.

The group, Empower the Future (ETF) was founded by Shawna Narayan, a fourth year science student at UBC, specializing in physics. She also serves as ETF’s Executive Director.

Launched in the spring of 2016, ETF aims to connect high school students with those in post-secondary in a partnership to encourage personal, academic and professional growth.

Workshop group at Princess Margaret Secondary School.

Narayan started the group because of her experiences in high school, encountering several challenges like searching for financial aid on her own and applying for post-secondary school.

She said it’s because of the support of her mentors that she was able to receive scholarships and awards, and she wants to be able to offer that same support to other students, by giving them the resources to educate themselves about life after high school and make informed decisions.

Shawna speaking with students about financial aid.

Narayan thought that they best way to do that would be to have high school students hear experiences from Surrey youth who have “been there” and “done that.”

“I have always looked for opportunities myself but I know that there are students that don’t know where to start and may give up when they can’t accomplish something. I want to help them with their goals,” she said. “It is difficult to navigate through post-secondary life by yourself and we want to help prepare inner-city students who are worried about moving forward with higher education and full-time careers.

“It’s important to recognize that the youth today will be future innovators and leaders. We need to support them. That’s why I started this organization.”

In 2016, the group started off with the Life After High School workshop to uncover the challenges students are facing, and providing them with helpful information.

After a successful launch at Frank Hurt Secondary School, the Surrey School District was interested in holding the workshop in several schools in Surrey.

ETF started 2017 with workshops at Princess Margaret Secondary School and L.A. Matheson Secondary School, where they discussed five common problems that high school students face today: dealing with financial stress; finding credible information about post-secondary education; preparing to enter the workforce; searching for quality volunteer opportunities; and caring for yourself.

“This year we decided to go more in-depth on mental health because it’s a challenge many young adults are facing,” Said Anmol Sooch, ETF’s Events Director, “We want to be able to show kids that this isn’t anything to be embarrassed about or to run away from. There are many resources to help you.”

“We also added more brainstorming activities. We have this one activity where students are given a scenario about a student who is entering post-secondary school and living away from home – they guess how much the four years of the degree will cost the student,” said Narayan, “Some students wrote $100,000, some wrote $25,000. It gave them a good idea of the costs associated with post-secondary school and really sparked conversation about how to find financial aid which is also something we talk about.”

“It’s really interesting to see how attentive the students are. They view the mentors as peers, not as teachers which allows us to make a different impact on them,” she added.

“The information that we learned was very useful. I personally am very terrified of going to post-secondary and the mentors from Empower The Future, made it seem less scary,” said a student at Princess Margaret Secondary School.

Taylor Morton is a Facilitator with the Surrey School District that helps ETF with the workshops. She said, “I reflected a lot on my own post-secondary experience and how much I wish that I had someone like Shawna in my corner. I did not have the chance to speak with people close to my age to really go into depth on what post-secondary is like. Financially, post-secondary isn’t always a reality for our students but Shawna shows them exactly how to make it happen.”

Narayan alongside six others make up the ETF executive team.

Anmol Sooch is the Events Director of ETF. She is a fourth year science student at UBC specializing in biology. She also volunteers with the Down Syndrome Research Foundation.

Joshua Zivny is the Finance and Administration Director of ETF. He is a recent graduate of the Justice Institute of B.C.’s firefighting technologies program. He is also a Canadian Cancer Society volunteer.

Ayman Azhar is the Engagement Director of ETF. She is a fourth year science student at UBC specializing in biology. She is also a Research Assistant at Chan-Yeung Center for Occupational and Environmental Respiratory Disease.

Hakeem Hussein is the Marketing and Communications Director of ETF. He is a third year UBC science student. He is also an Executive of the Gage Residence Association and the Coloured Connected at UBC.

Marissa Brooks is the Graphics and Design Director of ETF. She is in the child and youth care program at Douglas College. She also volunteered for the Boys and Girls Club of South Coast BC.

Elias Panah is the Corporate Relations Director of ETF. He is a third year SFU student majoring in biomedical physiology. He is also a part of the Science Peer Mentorship program at SFU.

Empower The Future has been granted over $3,000 from UBC’s Centre for Community Engaged Learning, the Vancouver Foundation, and UBC’s Science Undergraduate Society. Kwantlen Polytechnic University also donated over 200 tote bags for ETF’s resources packages that are given to high school students. Their partnership with the Surrey School District allows them to connect with more students, specifically students in inner-city schools. This year, 180 students will be attending their workshops.

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