Google opens Kitchener community space, pledges $2.1M for local STEM

Google is opening a community space in Kitchener for local non-profits and organizations. The company is also pledging $2.1 million for local STEM programs.

New space at Google campus will advance STEM education, innovation and digital skills for youth

The Kitchener-Waterloo Youth Robotics team called the Rebels have built two robots that can perform tasks, like moving cubes. They built the robots in a new space provided to the team by Google. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

A new community space opened at the Google campus in Kitchener on Tuesday, with an aim to help with local STEM education, innovation and digital skills for youth.

The new community space can be used by local nonprofits and organizations for free as event space, co-worker areas as well as a place to host programs.

Google has also pledged $2.1 million for local STEM (science, tech, engineering and math) programs during a launch of the community hub Tuesday.

The money will support local and national non-profits, organizations and schools. That includes the University of Waterloo's Women in Computer Science and Engineering Science Quest as well as Actua and a national STEM outreach organization. 

The space is more than 370 square metres and located beside the Google building at 25 Briethaupt St.

The space "can host programming and events, from helping students build giant robots to offering digital workshops for new Canadians," a release about the new space said.

Google announced it was reinvesting $1.5 million in Actua, Canada's largest STEM outreach organization, on Tuesday. The announcement came as Google also opened a community space beside its Kitchener offices. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

'A pressing need for space'

Google said it is opening the space and pledging the money for a number of reasons including the need for a skilled and diverse workforce to drive future innovation. The company noted there is a need to train new Canadians for work in tech companies.

But the space is also intended to prepare youth for future work.

Google said a survey found students in Waterloo region have said they would be interested in participating in coding activities outside of school, but only 12 per cent say they have actually have opportunities, largely because schools and parents aren't sure where to go.

Local dignitaries attended the official opening of the community space, which is located next to Google's Kitchener offices. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

"Waterloo region is a rapidly growing innovation hub for Canada, and there is a pressing need for space for local nonprofits and organizations," the company said in a release.

"We connected with local nonprofits to understand their most pressing needs: time after time, space was brought up as a commodity that was critically need and hard to come by."

Steve Woods, the senior engineering director and site lead at Google Canada, said they've already seen several groups apply to use the space.

They've done programs in local libraries and the universities but having a space right next to their own offices just made sense, he said. 

"We wanted to have a central location for it to make it more accessible for us, as well as a single place, which is often a real problem for after-school activities to find a place with security that has access to the students in a central area and free," he said.

"Cost is also a problem for a lot of these groups, and we wanted to take all those things out of it."

Students work on an Actua project at the new Google community space in Kitchener. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Robotics team already in space

Members of the Kitchener-Waterloo Youth Robotics team, known as the Rebels, have already made use of the space. On Tuesday, they gave a demonstration of two robots they built.

Team member Elisa Knight of New Hamburg said having the space in a central location in the region will hopefully mean more young people will join.

"We are a community team, which means that everybody — if they can get a ride out — can join our team, which has been an amazing experience," she said.

"I have met so many other people who I never would have met if not for FIRST [For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology] and if not for this Google community space where they could all join the team."

Students eagerly raise their hands when asked if they want to try the robots developed by the Kitchener-Waterloo Youth Robotics team called the Rebels. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)


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