Canadian students are met with exceeding demands to keep pace with the fast-paced and rigorous academic environment in a world that’s constantly changing.
Unanticipated stressors like a global pandemic, financial struggles and academic demands are only some of the variables that students have to consider in the pursuit of a stable career.
Since the start of the pandemic, students have been thrown for a loop, as have their physical and mental health, and the results are evidence-based and measurable.
The proportion of youth not in employment, education or training (NEET), is an indicator used globally to identify youth who are at risk of social isolation and exclusion during their transition from education to employment.
Over the course of the past few years, and greatly influenced by external factors like the pandemic and the economy, youth aged 15 to 29 have faced immense challenges and disruptions to their education.
NEET rates increased the most in Canada compared to any other OECD countries, due to public health measures, economic and social factors. It’s evident that Canadian youth were disproportionately affected by the pandemic, greater than many of their neighbors.
Canadian students have always had stressors that have been known to negatively impact their physical and mental health, and the pandemic exacerbated the issue.
Companies like Bell Canada have launched campaigns like Bell Let’s Talk in an effort to raise awareness and combat stigma surrounding mental health in Canada. There are however, few companies who can say from the start that their modus operandi is exclusively to help students with their mental and physical well-being.
A relatively young company with a driven and determined group of founders is changing the status quo in post-secondary institutions across the country – Student Support.
Student Support is a social enterprise founded by Ajamu Attard, Scott Braddon and Brent Colby.
The organization helps students get access to essential services and support when they need it most. Partnered with Udemy, Calm, Aaptiv and Nimbus Learning, Student Support gives students access to academic support year-round for a fraction of the cost.
By initiating conversations with major corporations and service providers, the founders of Student Support were able to get these providers to supply their services at 98 percent off the typical cost, noting in their conversations the importance of supporting students on their academic journeys.
“We’re able to make it affordable because all students are paying a little,” and that brings the total cost down.
The adoption rates have been staggering, however, with most students at any given post secondary institution choosing to keep the services of Student Support, and reporting with it several benefits.
Students have noted improved mood and sleep from Calm, and a boost in academic performance from tools like Nimbus Learning. These positive effects trickle into all areas of their academic careers and help support a positive learning experience.
The goal of the founders of Student Support was to help their fellow students get access to essential supports and help lessen the cost burden among the student body to access essential services.
The founders of Student Support, Ajamu Attard, Brent Colby and Scott Braddon are all recent university graduates, who played a major role on campus during their time as students.
Ajamu Attards is the National Director and CEO of Student Support, Brent Colby is Director of Marketing, and Scott Braddon holds both CFO and COO titles.
One commonality among them all – struggle.
Attard grappled with homelessness and dealt with racism as a student, Colby tore his ACLs while skiing and had to retire from his construction job, and Braddon suffered from several bouts of acute pancreatitis, which prompted an early retirement from competitive paddling. Young Braddon at the time had already represented Team Canada as a Junior Athlete.
Rather than letting their situations get the best of them, the group formed a tight bond while attending Carleton University, and at the time decided to help students get access to scholarships.
For some time, the group paired students with scholarships, helping students across the country get access to over half a million dollars in funding.
Shortly thereafter, the group decided to move on from scholarships and start Student Support, and the rest is history. The young founders have now been working together for years, and are working around the clock every day to ensure more students across the country have the ability to access their services.
Their vision, however, knows no bounds. Rather than stopping where they are and simply expanding the adoption of their service, the Student Support team is constantly seeking new ways to better it. One of their upcoming plans is to source cheaper phone and internet plans for students so they can save the bulk of the cost on those services as well.
Doing so presents its own challenges, but that’s not enough to make the team at Student Support back down.
A self-proclaimed systems nut, Scott Braddon says that if he sees a way to make things easier, he always will. A fan of spreadsheets and automation, the young COO and CFO has his hands full helping Student Support run a tight ship while seeking strategic partnerships.
Elaborating on another challenge Student Support is often faced with, Braddon says, “Sometimes you need the support of students before you can get the partners, or you need the partners before you can get the support of the students.”
After the hardships the team have overcome in their own personal and professional lives, they’re up to the challenge.
Brent Colby has an analogy to tie it all together and envision the light at the end of the tunnel. An avid freestyle skier before tearing his ACLs, he says:
“In skiing you’re always trying to get better and learn a new trick. And the only way to do that is to try and you’re probably going to fail the first couple times. But if you keep trying and don’t give up, odds are you’ll figure it out eventually,” says Colby.
“And you might get hurt along the way. But that’s all part of the process.”