Dr. Eugenia Duodu joined Visions of Science as a volunteer. A year later, she was leading the organization. Fueled by a desire to give back to the community and create change for youth, Duodu has exponentially grown the team, the organization, and its impact.

This article was originally published on Discover & Learn.

Visions of Science exists to advance the educational achievements and personal development of youth from low income and racialized communities through meaningful engagement in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). When Dr. Eugenia Duodu, named a 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Social Change Finalist, joined in 2011, she was looking for two things: Something to do while pursuing her doctorate in Chemistry at the University of Toronto, and a way to give back to her community.

Dr. Duodu’s passion for community engagement began with her community youth group several years ago. Working with Rathburn Area Youth, she worked with community mentors and peers to create change – whether it was through building a community centre or implementing local initiatives to create positive change. “In my youth group I was able to work in several different housing communities similar to mine – I was able to see what was happening across the city and saw the awesome potential of the people living here.”

Ten years ago, she was pursuing her PhD in Chemistry and was seeking a way to blend her two passions in life. “I was looking for an opportunity to give back to the community in a way that connected my passion for STEM with grassroots community development.” Visions of Science was the perfect fit.

A Path Paved by Support

When asked about her path to science – and specifically through to a doctorate in chemistry, Dr. Duodu describes it as a passion built over time.

“The first time I knew I loved chemistry was when I took a second year Organic Chemistry course. Usually that’s when people discover they don’t like it – but for me, it was the contrary. It clicked for me. I always liked chemistry, but I remember that the turning point was doing very well in the course and having professors who affirmed that for me. That’s been a theme of my life.”

Dr. Duodu explains that there have been many people who have supported her along the way, and would not be in the position she is today without the support of those who have come alongside her in her life, “through encouragement, pointing me to opportunities, holding my hand… it has taken a village. I am grateful for my community of support.”

In fact, it was through the support of the previous Executive Director of Visions of Science that Dr. Duodu came to assume leadership of the organization. After meeting Francis Jeffers on the first day she volunteered, it became clear to Jeffers that she would succeed him. “He was transitioning, and the opportunity came for me to help run the organization at an advisory level. From there, by way of opportunities and openings, I was able to assume leadership. The whole process took about a year.”

Expanding the Reach of Visions of Science

When Dr. Duodu joined Visions of Science in 2011, the organization served youth in grades 3 – 8 across six communities in Toronto. Under her leadership, the age catchment has expanded through both STEM clubs (for grades 3 – 7) and the STEM Leaders Program for youth in grades 8 – 12. This program provides youth with advanced immersive and STEM-based experiential learning opportunities, as well as a forum for community-based leadership skill development. “We ultimately want to empower youth from our communities to become leaders for change,” Dr. Duodu explains.

Dr. Duodu is modest about the role she has played in transforming the organization. “I worked with an awesome team and built off of what was there before. We explored ideas and looked at the different possibilities,” she says, which includes securing charitable status in 2015. “That change allowed us to transform what we were able to do for fundraising,” she says, citing that the funding support has enabled the team to test and try new ideas and make the impact they wanted to make.

Under her guidance, Visions of Science has grown the team from five core staff members and 40 volunteers to 33 staff and 150+ volunteers. With such a steep growth trajectory, it’s often difficult for organizations to find the talent they need quickly – for Visions of Science, however, hiring hasn’t been an issue. “We have been able to attract like-minded individuals – people who want to make a difference in the community. They reflect the communities we work in and bring their own experiences to the organization,” she says. Dr. Duodu is particularly proud of the circle of giving back that Visions of Science has produced. “Many youth who were in programs work for us now.”

As for being named an RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards finalist, Dr. Duodu is honoured – but again points to her team and shares the nomination with them. “I am proud to have had the opportunity to be part of this incredible work,” she says. “I don’t ever look at the work and think of what I have accomplished as an individual – rather, it’s about what I have been a part of. It affirms that I am part of the right thing. It’s wonderful to be recognized, but it’s even more wonderful that our work was recognized.”

The RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards was celebrated at a virtual gala on November 18, 2020. Nominations for the 2021 awards open January 27, 2021. Learn more or nominate an outstanding female entrepreneur online.

Diane Amato is a Toronto-based freelance writer who loves to talk about finances, travel and technology.

This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.