Four P.E.I. high school students have been chosen to take part in a highly competitive summer program for youth who are looking to make a difference in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

Over the course of a month, more than 600 of the top high school students from Canada and abroad attend a month-long summer program hosted at 12 university campuses across the country. The students attend lectures and seminars on subjects ranging from biology and chemistry to theatre and writing.

Two of the Island students participating this year — Kelly Sit, a Charlottetown Rural student who's being hosted by Dalhousie University, and Emma Paynter, a Three Oaks grad from Albany who's at Memorial University of Newfoundland — joined Island Morning host Matt Rainnie to talk about the program.

"Really, there's no other program like it," Paynter said.

"I've been to a lot of programs across Canada that are similar to SHAD, but there's nothing that combines science and math and business and art like SHAD does. And you really just meet such a wide variety of people from all different backgrounds. It's a life-changing experience."

Food insecurity

The students are also challenged to come up with an original product to help solve a current economic or social program — in groups, they're asked to come up with an idea, develop a business and marketing plan, build prototypes and pitch their project to a panel of judges.

'So far, what I've learned is through collaboration we can do a lot more than just an individual.' - Kelly Sit

This year, the students have been tasked with developing a project to improve food security for all Canadians.

Sit's team has developed a type of modular urban garden — it's a series of growing boxes containing soil arranged in a column suspended with a pulley system from tracks on the ceiling, which can be raised and lowered to different heights for easier access for the user.

"This modular gardening system connects consumer to food production and supplies food for inhabitants for mostly urban areas," she said.

"We're basically targeting indoor residents. We're starting with individual families and eventually to high-rise buildings to promote self-sustainability through the use of a community garden."

SHAD pei

The students attend lectures and seminars on subjects like biology and chemistry. (Courtesy of shad.ca)

National awards

Paynter's team is still in the brainstorming stages, but they're looking at two ideas — a greenhouse program in schools in urban communities, or an alternative food product to communities in the North.

"I'm sure people have seen the photos on Facebook and social media of a $30 head of lettuce in Nunavut because it takes so much money to ship it up there," she said.

"We were looking into a healthy product that we could send to Northern communities that would cost much less."

A panel of judges will select one winning team to attend SHAD's annual national awards, to be handed out in Toronto in October.

Thinking outside the box

But whatever the outcome, both students say it's been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

"I really hope that our group or anyone's project would be able to provide a solution or a message to help solve or improve food security in Canada," Sit said.

'I think one of the main things that SHAD teaches us is to think outside the box.' - Emma Paynter

"So far, what I've learned is through collaboration we can do a lot more than just an individual."

Paynter called it "an amazing experience" that's helping her prepare to attend university in the fall.

"I've learned a ton, and I've learned a lot just from collaborating with other people who live in other parts of the country, and hearing their experiences," she said.

"I think one of the main things that SHAD teaches us is to think outside the box. That's one of the values that SHAD really tries to impose on us while we're here."

With files from Island Morning