Vancouver’s Ethos Lab teaches teens inclusivity alongside technology
The organization has built a pipeline for Vancouver’s top tech companies that offers true diversity.
For a space dedicated to tinkering, Ethos Lab is very clean. And that’s not just because it’s brand new. Despite teens streaming in and out every day, the location’s tidiness is indicative of the deliberateness that informs both Ethos’s ideology, and the programs it offers. And, most significantly, how much its members care about the space.
The innovative youth academy brands itself as “Hogwarts meets Wakanda”: a location where kids aged 12 to 18 can explore their curiosities around STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math). More than a typical after-school program, though, Ethos’ uniqueness is captured in its name. The organization is mission-driven. Helmed primarily by Black leaders, Ethos Lab aims to close the gap between inequalities within innovation, and co-create a future where all are represented. All teens are welcome, regardless of creed or colour, as long as they explore what it means to build an inclusive and supportive society.
“Parents are realizing that their kids need equitable access to tools and information that will help them challenge and shape a digital future that is quickly arriving upon us,” says Anthonia Ogundele, founder of Ethos Lab. “We need young, diverse voices co-creating innovative solutions and leading change, in order to ensure we aren’t just perpetuating antiquated, unjust systems — whether those hierarchies are found in coding, urban planning, or the art market.”
Ethos Lab officially opened its new, permanent location in mid-May, smack in the city’s creative district at Main and 3rd (177 East 3rd Ave). Since then, the organization has brought colour to the space in more ways than one. The walls inside have been decorated with afro-futurist-meets-Indigenous art, telling the comic book-esque story of Atlanthos: a high-tech, underwater, and once-self-sufficient city that has been ripped from its original plane into a new world. Atlanthos is Ethos’ lore, an imaginative origin story where Ethosians – the collective noun for Ethos Lab’s members – live. Ethosians are a group of empathetic inventors with exceptional skill sets, whose new technology is openly shared, making the city a home for any diaspora.
It’s a tale that’s mirrored by real life. Eyob Davidoff, a Vancouverite currently in his first year studying computer science at Harvard, cites the space as his second home, and one that has given him the chance to be a role model in a community that is important to him. Davidoff first became involved with Ethos in the spring of 2021, and has since emerged as one of the community’s youth leaders, dedicated to sharing his knowledge with younger teens. Davidoff spent his term-time mentoring Ethosians virtually from Harvard. Now he’s back in Vancouver for summer break, the 18-year-old spends most of his waking hours at Ethos Lab’s new space – “I like to say my hours are 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.,” he says, “because once I’m here, I meet so many cool people.”
Along with three other first-year computer science students, Davidoff is a leader of Ethos’ new Gaming Studio program, which has been created in partnership with Burnaby’s EA Sports. The community’s program manager, Horatiu Halmaghi, worked out a curriculum for the initiative, where staff members from EA visit the Main Street location, discuss thier job at the global giant, and workshop questions from the teens including how to recreate the elements that they enjoy in games. The topics the EA producers and software engineers address are designed to coincide with the class’s focus of the week. Davidoff recalls when he first considered the idea with Ogundele.
“We talked about this certain game design studio,” he tells Vancouver Tech Journal. “Youth-led. [We could create] one cycle of this studio to really teach people how to code and get people up to speed with using Unity. And then it'd be like, we could repeat it, and streamline the process, then get better, and end up turning it into a space where people can just make actual games – high-quality games.”
Such collaborations set Ethos Lab apart in the STEAM after-school program market. Davidoff recalls meeting the president of FIFA operations for EA – the head of one of the company’s biggest game titles – at the community’s space, and is looking forward to a hackathon event he hopes Microsoft will organize for Ethos soon. The organization also boasts – among others – partnerships with UBC, Kwantlen, Langara, SFU, Vancouver Film School, Arts Club, and the National Speech and Debate Association. Such ties, Davidoff suggests, will help create a pipeline where Ethosians can emerge ready for jobs in some of Vancouver’s biggest tech companies.
“We're really going to try and develop programs,” he says. “Relationships, where Microsoft and EA can pluck people from Ethos Lab, and be like, ‘Oh, these people have the skills.’ It's a diverse group of kids. We're getting everyone to be involved. I think a lot of times [for] companies, that's your goal [of diversity], but it's hard to do that – especially hiring locally. Give it five years, I think, and a lot of Ethosians will be at Microsoft and EA, which will be dope. These companies are so big. I feel like everyone's like, ‘Oh, I have to be a software engineer.’ But I think there's a lot of room for artists; just good thinkers. Of course you probably need to know some coding, but I think it's more like a conversational amount of coding for some positions.
“Ethos is something I wish I had when I was 12 or 14,” Davidoff continues. “It's really good to see people in Vancouver just collapsing in, and being like, ‘Yo, nice to meet you.’ There's a lot of cool people coming in and out of the space. And it's a good environment to work on your own projects as well. Half the time I'm working on Ethos Lab-related things – like a startup idea. And I'm fleshing those ideas out, and just having conversations with people coming in, and it's super inspiring. There's never a boring day here.”
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