Everywhere I go around Waterloo Region, I find the hot topic of discussion is how do we keep all these smart students here in town when they graduate? When I speak directly with these students, the approach is obvious:

  1. Invite them to stay and help us build the community.
  2. Help them connect with meaningful and aspirational gigs here.
  3. Make them feel welcome and appreciated.

Darin White here, doing a guest piece for Communitech who on Monday this week held their second Communitech After School event at The Tannery in Kitchener. This event invited in students from the University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University, Conestoga College, McMaster University, University of Guelph, University of Windsor and University of Western Ontario. There was a slate of speakers, tours of Communitech, a mini-workshop, food and plenty of time to connect with each other. This is exactly the sort of thing we need to do to invest in the future of our community. People in general stay where they feel welcome and where the feel they can make a difference. Twenty-two year old graduates seek the same things.

This keen crowd (top photo) leapt from the first bus and after I shouted, “Welcome!” they shouted back, “Want us to pose for a picture?” All the way from McMaster in Hamilton, this crew was ready to have some fun.

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I vaguely remember university and the microcosm of campus life that made it unnecessary to venture out into the broader community. We had friends, classes, food, bars and fun all within a few blocks. A couple decades later, this semi-permeable membrane of academic life happily shows some cracks.


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In the course of my work, I’m very fortunate to connect with students on various projects. Last year I photographed UW students for Random Acts of Kindness Day and was completely impressed with how personable and open they were as they packed groceries at the Highland Supercentre. And when creating a community event called Maker Expo, some of our earliest discussion centred on how we might entice students to venture down below Victoria Street and join us. That led to a fun experiment integrating second-year Laurier entrepreneurship students into the event. They did case studies for some of the exhibiting makers. More recently, Conestoga College opened its doors so my daughter and I could attend Go CODE Girl, made possible by enthusiastic student volunteers. All of these positive experiences tell me we are merely scratching the surface of potential student+community engagement. Now imagine if we took this After School event and expanded it across the Region, working together with municipal governments and local companies. Imagine if people in the arts and in music worked on connecting with students. More than money or a complex plan, I think it simply takes a lot of work…


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And snacks! Fresh donuts can only help the cause. Last year I was chatting with Communitech CEO Iain Klugman, himself a super-connector, and I observed all the positive outcomes that emerge when he puts people together with food and drink on a regular basis. “Simple, right?” said he.


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Communitech’s Katie Weldon and a small army of other volunteers toured students through the Communitech Hub.


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Ian McDonald (right), Director of the TD Lab within Communitech, chatted with students, getting them thinking differently about opportunities in the banking business. He’s helped here by Kristin Flannigan (centre). That was a big theme for After School: shaking up pre-conceived notions. TD sponsored this event along with Microsoft and BlackBerry. Buses and buffets cost money, so high-five for sponsors.

Later in the event, my friend Jacqui Murphy talked about her circuitous and unexpected route through a career working in marketing, art and the venture capital space.


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When I attend events here in the Tannery Event Centre with an older crowd (like me), there is often more talking than eating. Students suffer no such inertia and take full advantage of the buffet. It was dinnertime after all.


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Microsoft has an innovation lab in Kitchener. I know, when you think Microsoft, you think West Coast and pine trees, but they’re here, too.


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Something that works when engaging any group is to ask them for feedback. So, students, have your say.


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From big banking to startups like Palette (above), Waterloo Region offers all different sizes and structures of places to contribute. Here is Palette’s Marketing and Community Co-ordinator Colin Tatham (right) in full-on demo mode.


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I must include this shot of a Palette rig. I have a soft spot for hardware makers and I always joke with Palette’s Calvin Chu and Ryan Van Stralen that their gear is all about the snap-together magnets. In this light though, the lit bezel is pretty sweet too.


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Non-stop conversations still going in the TD corner.


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Communitech’s After School organizer Holly Pearson called everyone to their seats…


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Holly welcomed everyone and gave a shout out to the campus ambassadors who were mixed into the crowd. Always makes sense to have students talking with students (or fresh grads).


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Communitech’s Kayleigh Platz (left) led a panel discussion with Summer, Eddie and Sonica, sharing their experiences straddling the school/work boundary.


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Good questions from the audience.


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Ashutosh Syal keynoted, talking about politely declining lucrative offers from the banks where he did co-op in order to pursue his own business as a co-founder of EyeCheck.


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He misses the salary, but loves the ownership. I like his no-nonsense authenticity.


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Then it was time for the breakout sessions. Corry Flatt of Bonfire talked about the most effective way to sell.


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Forget flash and sizzle. Focus less on functionality and more on what your product inspires.


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Are we back in class?


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TD’s Ian McDonald took his breakout session through a crash course in Design Thinking.


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I need this clock at my house.


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My friend Bob Barlow-Busch of Boltmade and Fluxible fame…

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…took the crowd through a real-life example of his work in the user experience domain.

Bob’s a great example of creating the community in which you want to live. Along with his co-founder (and my good friend) Mark Connolly, Bob created The Fluxible, a multi-day UX conference here in Kitchener that draws top-level practitioners annually for great talks and workshops. I recall Mark saying they “created the conference we always wanted to attend ourselves.” And recognizing the value in connecting outside of your workplace on a more regular basis, these guys also run a great monthly meetup called UX Waterloo.

You too can follow their simple formula for success: think it up and do it.


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Well, that’s twice as many photos as I was supposed to include, so I reckon that’s a wrap. Let’s all get to work keeping those student feet on our street.

At Victoria and Charles, this is Communitech in Waterloo Region.


About The Author

Darin White

Darin White, a long-time resident of Waterloo Region, has an unlikely education in both fine art and computer science, and a love of all things to do with the maker movement. As a founding director of kwartzlab makerspace, Darin got hooked on engaging the public in community building through storytelling. His latest venture, makebright.com, serves as a portfolio of his toolset and his passion for exploring the lesser-known corners of our creative ecosystem.