AGBU Toronto Innovation Studios: Unleashing the potential of creators and innovators

By Arman Ghaloosian

The Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) of Toronto will soon launch its new initiative for students between 11 and 18. Innovation Studios will combine elements of Armenian culture with STEAM education and draw from science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics. 

The program aims to foster critical thinking and problem-solving and develop a sense of agency and the power of capacity. “We want the students to be empowered not only with the skills of the future but also with a transformation of mindset. We want the participants to feel energized with a can-do attitude,” Lena Sarkissian, a Toronto-based member of AGBU’s Central Board of Directors, explained.

Registration for Innovation Studios is now complete, with 15 students who will receive a scholarship to participate. The inaugural session will take place on March 4, from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Students will converge weekly for a three-hour session of workshops in various technological disciplines, all held at AGBU Toronto Centre at 1 Concorde Gate. 

During the program, students will be presented with problems they are free to solve independently in the most inventive and resourceful manner possible. The students will work on an exclusive platform to share their projects, learn from each other, and have access to past content. The unique program gives students independence while providing instruction for guidance and support. According to Sarkissian, the program has eliminated the concept of failure; instead, an unsuccessful attempt is treated as the “first attempt in learning.” 

“It’s about transforming the participants’ attitudes to unleash everyone’s potential. In a world characterized by an unknown, unclear future, we want the participants to be activated by both an enhancement of their skills and a transformation of their mental frameworks,” Sarkissian said. 

As Armenian institutions shift their priorities to focus more on science and technology globally, young people will have far more opportunities to harness skills and develop them in preparation for their professional careers. Sarkissian notes that the program does not mimic a traditional classroom setting but is a hands-on, open workshop created to help learners learn new skills and reach their goals. Students will have access to 3D printers, laser cutters, and the latest software in graphic design, visual arts, music, photography, animation, robotics, and video game design. Additionally, the program offers many opportunities for traditional arts and crafts, product creation, and activities in other exciting spheres. 

With each studio, the students will embark on new creations and innovations. They will also be given a chance to present their portfolios of accomplished work at the end of the course. One of the primary focuses of the Innovation Studios and their STEAM outlook is engaging with robotics. Participants will learn Arduino, an open-source electronic prototyping platform, during the robotics workshop. 

The commitment to science and technology is not the only goal of AGBU’s Innovation Studios. Sarkissian explains that Armenian elements are actively involved in the various workshops and programs. The first workshop on bio-robotics will analyze the movement of Armenian wildlife, and participants will create robots through biomimicry. These critical skills in an increasingly technological-driven world will help the students engage with Armenian culture in their own unique ways. Their work will allow them to explore, innovate and invent, leaving their permanent mark in the world through an Armenian lens. 

Additionally, the program hopes to connect young Armenians around the world. Innovation Studios hopes to connect Armenian youth across the world by organizing them to work together on a collective project. This also includes the possibility of working with students at the TUMO centre in Yerevan and other locations. 

This initiative is one of many worldwide aimed at developing the global Armenian–someone who is both a positive contributor to their local community as well as the international Armenian community. AGBU supports the personal prosperity of its students and the development of one’s identity while engaging with their fellow global Armenians. This outlook attempts to shift the standard from preservation to creation and innovation. The program hopes to empower young Armenians across the globe to create solutions to the problems faced by the world, all the while contributing to Armenian culture as well. 

Along with providing cutting-edge education and valuable skills, one of the many goals of AGBU’s Innovation Studios is to provide a positive experience in an Armenian setting. Students can make new friends and connect while developing their professional skills. One Armenian school in California has already recognized the overall success of this program. The St. Gregory A. & M. Hovsepian School in Pasadena has adapted its curriculum to include Innovation Studios. And as education systems around the world adapt and grow, this phenomenon is sure to spread across the globe.