Dec. 16, 2020

Schulich student a young Star of Alberta

Escape with STEM creator recognized with provincial volunteer honour

Brennan O’Yeung’s passion for opening doors to STEM for young people has opened even more doors for him.

The 21-year-old Schulich School of Engineering student has been scooping up many accolades with his “Escape with STEM” organization, delivering STEM-based escape-room puzzles for young people. He was recently recognized again with a 2020 Stars of Alberta Volunteer Award.

“My first reaction was almost, ‘Is this too good to be true?’” O’Yeung laughed about his reaction to getting the email about the award. “I had to read it again to make sure it wasn’t a phishing email or something.”

He was among nine recipients who took part in a virtual ceremony on Dec. 4, hosted by Alberta’s Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women, Leela Aheer.

The First Clue

O’Yeung experienced his first escape room in the summer of 2015. He instantly fell in love with the concept, and started building rooms of his own in his basement for family and friends.

The Calgary-born student then enrolled at the Schulich School of Engineering at the University of Calgary, but noticed a need to attract more Indigenous students to the faculty.

“That was the defining moment for Escape with STEM,” he said.

Escape to the Stars

Before long, O’Yeung was taking his ideas to several schools in and around Calgary, where more than 1,000 students have already taken part.

The most-rewarding part for him is watching their eyes light up when they “get it.”

“Watching these kids work through a puzzle and have that ‘Eureka!’ moment - and say that it’s awesome - then they’re really excited to move onto the next puzzle with their group, that’s the best part,” O’Yeung said.

He also has students, parents and educators come up to him afterwards to thank them for igniting a passion they didn’t even know was there.

“Those moments really inspire me to continue to do what I’m doing.”

The Floor Plan

Gratitude is a word that seems to define O’Yeung’s responses to the questions thrown at him. He’s thankful for the support of his family, friends and all those who have worked with him at the Schulich School of Engineering.

“I was able to learn so much from my classes, but also some of the other events and workshops that they put on display,” O’Yeung said. “Some of these competitions and experiences help translate into what I offer with Escape with STEM.”

While he hasn’t been able to offer the escape-room experience in person during the COVID-19 pandemic, he has been able to transition his focus to the online experience. That will include more rooms for students in the future, including with the Calgary Board of Education’s Online Learning Hub.