From an engineer to a franchise owner who teaches kids how to build and problem solve with Lego, P.E.I.’s Amber Jadis has taken an interesting career path.
But combining engineering with Lego and children’s education is a perfect fit for Jadis, who comes from a family of teachers and who launched a Bricks 4 Kids franchise on P.E.I. in 2014.
The mobile program brings science, engineering, math and technology education using Lego to schools across the Island.
As Jadis explains, the most rewarding part is watching kids try to solve a problem with Lego, and then seeing “the light in their eyes when they get it going.”
Originally from Mount Stewart, Jadis has settled in Scotchfort with her husband and children.
Jadis started an engineering degree at UPEI in 1998 and then finished it at Dalhousie University (in electrical engineering) in 2003. After some time in the workforce, she went back to school in 2008 at UPEI in the Executive Master of Business Administration degree (EMBA) program.
In addition to being the owner of Bricks 4 Kidz, Jadis is also the owner of coSolved Consulting, an engineering consulting company, as well as continuing to spread her passion for science with a kid’s camp program called STEAM P.E.I.
On a personal note, Jadis was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in February. Friends and family have rallied around her, even creating a Gofundme page to help with costs. As Jadis explains, the diagnosis has turned her life “upside down pretty quickly,” but she is fighting the disease and taking life one day at a time.
Jadis talked to the Guardian this week about her career, Bricks 4 Kidz and her recent cancer diagnosis.
Q: For people unfamiliar with Bricks 4 Kidz, what does the franchise do?
A: We’re teaching kids about science, engineering, math and technology using Lego. And, it’s not the Lego you might have grown up with or I grew up with. It’s Lego with motors and batteries, and we’re building with gears and cam wheels and axles – all kinds of mechanical components. The students, as young as four and five, are building things that move and work. You know, following instructions for a portion of the class, then having time to exercise their creativity and to use what they’ve learned to build cooler, better, bigger things. ‘We learn, we build, we play’ is the Bricks 4 Kidz model. So, we talk a little bit about the science or engineering behind whatever it is we’re going to build that day. And then, they work with a partner to build, which is a lesson in itself because building Lego on your own is easier than building with a partner, especially when you’re five and six years old. So, learning that teamwork and collaboration (and) clear communication – there’s no arguments about who does what. The critical thinking and problem solving if something doesn’t work out, that’s when their brains really start to burn. And, I love that part when they have to look back and think and figure out what might be wrong, and fix it. And then, see the light in their eyes when they get it going – that’s the most rewarding part
Q: Why did you want to get involved as an owner of this franchise?
A: I was home with a little one at the time on maternity leave. I discovered it by accident in the Dalhousie alumni magazine. A fellow engineering graduate, I didn’t know her that well, but she started a franchise in Halifax and it was profiled in the magazine. I just saw it and I said, ‘Oh my goodness, that would be so much fun.’ As an engineer with young kids and coming from a family of teachers where education was very important in my life, it was just everything I loved to do. The stars aligned and everything fell into place pretty quickly, and a couple of months later, I had a franchise.
Q: You’ve had an interesting career going from an engineer to completing an EMBA to now being a franchise owner. What has the transition been like going from an engineer to an owner?
A: I think I always had a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit. I was an eager employee, or think that I was. But I always wanted to be my own boss and be the driver of my own ship. To fail or win, it’s on me. It kind of sucks a little when you get sick and you run own business. I still have some great employees, so business as usual as far as kids and parents are concerned.
Q: You’re a strong proponent of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). Why is it important to advocate for those areas in education?
A: I think in our elementary schools, there is a lot of focus on literacy and numeracy. And, science kind of gets left off to the side. So, I feel like there are some gaps in those areas on P.E.I. And, working from the outside in, I want to provide extra opportunities. This business idea also stemmed from my experience at the National Science Fair when it was on P.E.I. It was a while ago. I remember being a judge and seeing the quality and caliber of projects from across Canada, and the opportunities that other students in other places in the country had at robotics clubs and programs working with university researchers, and all kinds of things that I realized we didn’t have on P.E.I. And, it was kind of sad. That was sort of a driving factor as well to start doing this.
Q: You mentioned being sick and running the business. When were you diagnosed with stage-three breast cancer?
A: It was just a few weeks ago. It’s going very fast. Yeah, it was the end of February. I had surgery a few days after I found out, and then started chemo two days after that. So, everything is very new and fresh and I still don’t really know what’s going on. I haven’t even gotten all the test results back, actually. Stage three at least if not (stage) four. We’re still waiting for a couple of MRI results. It’s not good. It’s a little scary. Anyway, one day at a time and doing what I need to do and see where it goes.