Feb. 14, 2019

Student thinks outside the box with an ingenious escape room approach to STEM learning

Schulich’s Brennan O'Yeung wins United Way award for philanthropy
Spirits of Gold Awards at the Big Four Building on Feb. 12, 2019.
Spirits of Gold Awards at the Big Four Building on Feb. 12, 2019. Photo by Kathie Shand Photography — in Calgary, Alberta.

His plan is to have them escape a single room, and by doing so, unlock a lifetime of passion.

For this, 19-year-old Schulich School of Engineering student Brennan O'Yeung is this year’s proud recipient of the Culbert Family Award for Philanthropy, given to him at the United Way’s Spirits of Gold Awards on Feb 12.

“In the summer of 2015, I experienced my first-ever escape room and instantly fell in love with the concept and most importantly, the challenge,” explains O’Yeung.

“I enjoyed the experience so much, I created my own escape rooms in my basement for family and friends.”

Take that love of a good puzzle, and a drive to help others, and you get Escape with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics). That’s the vehicle through which O’Yeung hopes to attract more Indigenous youth to fields like engineering and science, by using STEM-based “escape room/locked room” puzzles and experiences to inspire students to explore STEM related education and career opportunities.

The kids get locked in a room, and through hands-on deduction and team puzzle solving, they earn clues to help them escape — an accomplishment that’s both fun and educational.

Escape with STEM was hatched when O’Yeung started at the University of Calgary. He noticed that while gender and ethnicity were well represented among students, there was a clear need to attract more Indigenous students to engineering.

“That was the defining moment for Escape with STEM,” says O’Yeung.

“When I brainstormed opportunities to increase Indigenous representation in STEM-related learning, I decided to think outside the box and look for something interesting and original. I put my passion for logic puzzles into good use and Escape with STEM was born.”

And it’s working. Already, O’Yeung has taken his escape rooms to elementary students at Calgary’s Piitoayis School and to Indigenous youth at the Boys and Girls Club of Calgary, receiving enthusiastic response from participants, administration and club officials.

Through United Way’s Spirit of Gold, which recognizes young professionals shaping the future via work and charity, O’Yeung now has an extra $2,000 to develop his concept, which has until now relied heavily on personal savings and donations.

Culbert Family Award

Brennan O'Yeung w his parents, Kathleen & William O'Yeung & Diane Kenyon, VP University Relations