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Growing up, she dared not dream she could be a scientist. Now she’s helping hundreds of kids believe it’s possible




Seated in the hallway of her high school, Eugenia Duodu’s head was buried deep in her science textbooks when a student teacher approached.

“You like science?” asked the teacher. Duodu, then in Grade 11, nodded.

Duodu loved science, even though her friends thought it was uncool. It had been a closeted passion since childhood, when she relished TV shows such as The Magic School Bus and Bill Nye the Science Guy. But she had never dreamed of pursuing science. Being Black, raised by a single mom in social housing in Etobicoke, she didn’t see herself in that world. She didn’t know any scientists and thought they were old white men in lab coats with messy hair. Albert Einstein types

The teacher told Duodu about an upcoming summer mentorship program at the University of Toronto, where students of Indigenous and African ancestry work alongside researchers in labs and clinics. Duodu had grappled with impostor syndrome, doubting her accomplishments and questioning if science was a good fit for her, even though she was a hard worker and had the grades to prove it. And, although she didn’t know it, science was literally in her DNA.

She applied, was accepted, and, for the first time, stepped onto a university campus, where she met scientists who looked like her with similar upbringings.

“We were like, ‘What? You exist?’… My classmates and I were like, ‘We can do this.’… It was a game changer.”

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Duodu went on to get a PhD in chemistry. She’s now CEO of Visions of Science Network for Learning, a charitable organization that runs free educational programs in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) for youth in low-income communities. It works with Toronto Community Housing (TCH) and Peel Housing Corporation in 24 locations across Toronto, Mississauga and Brampton, serving more than 500 youth from Grades 3 to 12.

The goal is to break down barriers — negative perceptions of STEM and limited funding for and access to opportunities and engage kids with hands-on learning experiences. A reason for this is 70 per cent of future jobs will require STEM-based literacy and skills, according to Let’s Talk Science, a national STEM-based organization.

“I’ve always had a passion for youth from (social) housing,” says Duodu, 30, who last year moved out of her mom’s apartment in TCH. “I saw the opportunity gaps, but also saw their potential.”

The organization runs STEM clubs for kids in Grades 3 to 8 on Saturdays from October to May in community spaces such as a building’s recreation room or community centre. Children participate in experimental workshops and learn, for instance, how to make paint, build robots and create hydraulic mazes. And they visit places such as the Royal Ontario Museum and the Ontario Science Centre.

When Duodu stepped into a volunteer leadership role at the organization in 2012 — she became CEO in 2016 — STEM clubs were in six communities and are now in 24. They were so successful that a STEM Community Leaders program was created for kids in Grades 8 to 12. In the summer, they visit places such as labs, universities and hospitals. And during the school year, they help run the STEM clubs for younger children, which develops leadership skills.

With Duodu at the helm, the organization became a charity and has been steadily growing, with six full-time staff, 24 part-time workers and 95 volunteers, mostly university STEM students. The organization receives federal funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, which is a provincial agency.

Dawn Britton is the associate director of outreach at U of T Engineering, which has partnered with Visions for almost two decades. Since Duodu came on board, the relationship has deepened. With each passing year, Britton says she sees more kids who aren’t afraid to put up their hands, are thinking of taking Grade 11 physics and who want to go to university.

“She’s creating a culture within Visions where it is cool to be smart,” says Britton. “That’s powerful.”

And, she says, Duodu has been very good about engaging the support network of youth — parents, grandparents, siblings, influencers — and inviting them to events, which is key to their success.

Nawaal Ali Sharif is one of the hundreds of kids exposed to STEM programs thanks to Visions of Science Network for Learning. The charitable organization runs free educational programs in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics for youth in low-income communities.

Nawaal Ali Sharif, 16, a Grade 11 student at Humberside Collegiate, says Visions programming “will change your life.” Four years ago, she started going to the STEM club in her Swansea Mews complex in the city’s west end. Back then, Sharif had little interest in science, which was synonymous with lectures and textbooks. That’s not the case now. “I actually truly love STEM,” she says, noting there were other changes too.

“I was shy. I didn’t like speaking and my confidence level was not at its peak … But since joining the program, my confidence has gone up.”

She hopes to study STEM in university and become a teacher. And, she thinks she’d be pretty good too, given her newly acquired leadership skills.

“Visions gave me an understanding of how to handle kids, make them have fun and help them understand and learn concepts they would not ordinarily understand at their age.”

She hasn’t ruled out becoming a scientist — she knows it’s possible.

“When I met Eugenia, I was like ‘Whoa.’ There are people who look like me who can be scientists. She completely changed my (perception) of what a scientist looked like.”

Duodu was raised as an only child in Etobicoke, in a TCH building on Capri Rd., in the Eatonville neighbourhood. She credits her mother with instilling in her a deep sense of community, that was reinforced at their local church — Church on the Queensway — where they are both still active.

Duodu remembers her mother making breakfast for a kid who lived down the hall, and giving it to him in a bag at the elevator so he wouldn’t go to school hungry. Her mother modelled kindness and Duodu was a fast learner.

As a toddler in daycare, according to stories her mom tells, Duodu would wipe the runny noses of children and alert caregivers to poopy diapers. And when she grew up, she’d help her peers by leading tutoring and reading groups.

Duodu’s mother, an accounting clerk, was always ready to help with homework, especially math. And she’d sign her daughter up for library programs, piano lessons and art camps. “We didn’t have the money to do certain things but my mom made sure to go after opportunities and see what subsidies were available,” recalls Duodu.

“I was very empowered to learn and go forward with my learning, but I didn’t see that empowerment translate to my classmates, who I knew had the ability … From a young age, I remember feeling like, ‘Why is it that I like this and some people don’t?’ or ‘Why am I doing well and some people aren’t?’”

Growing up, she was interested in science, but it was a “weird closeted passion.” Then, in Grade 10, at Martingrove Collegiate Institute, she took a biotechnology course. A class project involved having to do a series of tests to determine an unknown bacteria strain. Duodu was hooked. She researched tirelessly and figured it out.

“We had the best teacher. He was a complete light, and was totally hands-on,” recalls Duodu. “He opened up my world to the practical side of science. It was like science lifting off your textbook and operating in real life.”

She had not planned on continuing science but when Grade 11 started she asked to switch into physics, chemistry and biology. The guidance counsellor discouraged it, saying, “Why would you do that? It’s going to be so hard for you.”

Duodu was confused. The previous year she had aced science, but maybe the counsellor was right and she couldn’t hack it. But Duodu decided to follow her mom’s advice and insisted on getting into those science classes.

“As I excelled in university I would think back to that moment and think, ‘Oh my goodness, what if I had listened to (the guidance counsellor)? Did she say this to other people who didn’t know much about their abilities or themselves?”

During that “game-changer” of a summer mentorship program at the university, Duodu shadowed scientists in labs and followed doctors on rotation, witnessing live births, reading X-rays and studying MRIs.

“It was awesome,” recalls Duodu, who returned to high school with a new focus. “I knew I wanted to go to university and I was no longer afraid of going to school for a long time.”

While doing an undergraduate degree at U of T — she earned an Honours Bachelor of Science (chemistry and biology) — Duodu worked part-time as a youth worker for Toronto Community Housing.

“I (saw) what life was like across housing, across the city. That started shaping my perspective drastically, seeing how some challenges were the same, and some were completely different, depending on where you lived. Certain ends of the city were better resourced than others and that inevitably affected what happened in school.”

At the time, TCH was in the midst of the Tower Renewal project, retrofitting older buildings to make them more energy efficient. Residents complained about things such as low water pressure, and Duodu explained the science behind it and how money being saved could go back into community programs.

“I began to realize that it’s so important for communities to be scientifically literate, especially when science is happening to you anyways.”

After her undergrad, she pursued a PhD in chemistry. (The Master’s program is rolled into the PhD.) Spending countless hours in the lab researching cancer diagnostic tools taught her to look at problems and challenges in a different way and to be open to new possibilities. She drew upon those lessons when she began volunteering with Visions in 2011.

“There were systemic barriers to participation in STEM for youth in low-income communities and I began to think of ways to provide even more opportunities, despite these barriers.”

It was also during her PhD that she established a relationship with her father — a chemist — with whom she’s now very close.

“It put together a lot of pieces as to why I liked science,” she says. “It’s funny, I grew up not knowing any scientists and it turns out (I am the daughter of one.)”

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After finishing her PhD in 2015, Duodu could have pursued academia or industry, but was “deeply passionate” about Visions and dedicated herself full-time to the organization.

There’s little research in Canada on children in low-income communities and academic achievement in STEM. But according to a 2014 Toronto District School Board report, the 2011-2012 EQAO results — tests administered by the Education Quality and Accountability Office — show that 65 per cent of students in Grade 3, and 57 per cent of Grade 6 students, from low-income families (earning less than $30,000), achieved the provincial standard for math. By comparison, 89 per cent of students in Grade 3, and 85 per cent in Grade 6, from high-income families (earning more than $100,000), met that standard.

Given the lack of research, Visions is tracking the progress of kids in their STEM clubs.

“We’re trying to get the data … Why are youth from low-income communities so under-represented in STEM? What are the determinants that go into that?

“It doesn’t mean that children from low-income communities have less aptitude for science or less interest. Everyone grows up, to a certain point, liking it … But then it stops.”

Maurice Bitran, CEO & Chief Science Officer of the Ontario Science Centre, which partners with Visions, says “every kid who drops out of school or doesn’t get the opportunity to pursue what they have talent for, is a loss for society as a whole.”

“Anything we can do to inspire kids from these backgrounds and give them opportunities will change their lives, but also will be a positive impact for society.”

As for Visions’ future, there are plans to expand into communities in Scarborough and Rexdale and grow the programming aimed at high school kids. Beyond that, Duodu hasn’t yet decided whether to focus on deepening the impact in the GTA or moving into other parts of Ontario or Canada.

“We have had the opportunity to watch so many of the youth that we work with grow in many ways,” says Duodu. “From what I can already see now I am excited about the future of our communities, this city and the country. They are extraordinary and I can’t wait to see all that they do.”

Eugenia Duodu will be speaking at TEDxToronto at the Evergreen Brickworks on Friday, Oct. 26, at 2:35 p.m. Tomorrow’s day-long event can be viewed on a live stream beginning at 10 a.m.

The Star is profiling 12 Canadians who are making our lives better. Next week we talk to fiscal transparency watchdog Kevin Page.

Isabel Teotonio is a Toronto-based reporter covering education. Follow her on Twitter: @Izzy74


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Nostalgia and much more with Starburst XXXtreme




Get a taste of adventure with Starburst XXXtreme based on the legendary NetEnt Game. The nostalgic themes are sure to capture fans of the classic version as they get treated to higher intensity, better visuals, and features. The most significant element of the game is its volatility. Patience will not be an essential virtue considering the insane gameplay, and there is a lot of win potential involved. It retains the original makeup of the previous game while adding a healthy dose of adrenaline. 

Starburst Visuals and Symbols

The game is definitely more conspicuous than before. The setting happens over a 5-reel, 3-row game grid with nine fixed win lines, which function if a succession from the left to the right reel is present. Only those players that that attain the highest win per bet line are paid. From a visual standpoint, the Starburst XXXtreme slots illustrates lightning effects behind the reels, which is not surprising as it is inherited from the original version. Available themes include Classic, Jewels, and Space. The game is also available in both desktop and mobile versions, which is advantageous for players considering the global pandemic. According to Techguide, American gamers are increasingly having more engaging gaming experiences to socialize to fill the gap of in-person interaction. Starburst XXXtreme allows them to fill the social void at a time when there is so much time to be had indoors. 

Starburst XXXTreme Features

Players get to alternate on three features which are Starburst Wilds, XXXtreme Spins, and Random Wilds. The first appears on reels 2,3, or 4. When these land, they expand to cover all positions while also calculating the wins. They are also locked for a respin. If a new one hits, it also becomes locked while awarding another respin. Starburst XXXtreme offers a choice between two scenarios for a higher stake. In one scenario with a ten times stake, the Starburst Wild is set on random on reels 2,3, or 4, and a multiplier starts the respin. The second scenario, which has a 95 times stake, starts with two guaranteed starburst wilds on reels 2,3, or 4. it also plays out using respin game sequence and features. The game also increases the potential with the Random Wilds feature to add Starburst Wilds to a vacant reel at the end of a spin. Every Starburst Wild gives a random multiplier with potential wins of x2, x3, x5, x10, x25, x50, x100, or even x150.

The new feature is sure to be a big hit with the gaming market as online gambling has shown significant growth during the lockdown. AdAge indicates the current casino customer base is an estimated one in five Americans, so Starburst XXXtreme’s additional features will achieve considerable popularity. 

What We Think About The Game

The gambling market has continued to diversify post-pandemic, so it is one of the most opportune times to release an online casino-based game. Thankfully Starburst XXXtreme features eye-catching visuals, including the jewels and space themes. These attract audience participation and make the gameplay inviting. The game also has a nostalgic edge. The previous NetEnt iteration featured similar visuals and gameplay, so the audience has some familiarity with it. The producers have revamped this version by tweaking the features to improve the volatility and engagement. 

That is characterized by the potential win cap of 200,000 times the bet. Starburst XXXtreme does not just give betting alternatives for players that want to go big. The increase of multipliers also provides a great experience. If the respins in the previous version were great, knowing that multipliers can go hundreds of times overtakes the game to a new level. 

Players should get excited about this offering. All of the features can be triggered within a single spin. Whether one plays the standard game or takes the XXXtreme spin route, it is possible to activate all of the features. Of course, the potential 200,000 times potential is a huge carrot. However, the bet size is probably going to be restricted and vary depending on the casino. It is also worth pointing out that a malfunction during the gameplay will void all of the payouts and progress. Overall, the game itself has been designed to provide a capped win of 200,000 times the original bet. 

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‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year




In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal




MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.


The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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