Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
Hi! My name is Karissa Chan and I’m a recent Electrical and Biomedical Engineering graduate from Western University. I’m currently pursuing my Master’s degree at Ryerson University, with a research focus on artificial intelligence and medical imaging.
Growing up, I played multiple sports competitively, starting with basketball. I played rep for YNBA and coached house leagues throughout elementary and high school. I loved playing basketball, but I really fell in love with badminton towards the end of elementary school. I slowly transitioned to playing competitive badminton while basketball took a back seat, and I have since played badminton at the national level for almost 9 years. Between training for hours daily after school and travelling around Canada to compete, I ranked 5th nationally in women’s doubles and won OFSAA in Grades 11 & 12 in mixed doubles and women’s singles. I played on Western’s varsity badminton team my first two years of university, earning silver and bronze medals at the OUA Championships, two-time OUA All-Star, and Western Women’s Badminton MVP. Throughout my time at Western, I also played on the varsity women’s ultimate team. Western’s ultimate team was an inclusive and supportive environment where I immediately felt comfortable being myself and to grow as an athlete and as a person, so I decided to leave the competitive badminton scene to play more ultimate. Since then, I have played on Tox6ix for three years, which is a women’s touring team based in Toronto, and played all around Asia for a year including Korean Club Nationals and university nationals and invitationals in Singapore. I’m currently on a hiatus from sports due to the pandemic, but you can catch me hiking or throwing a disc with my dog pretty much every day!
What is something you have done outside of a sport you are passionate about?
Aside from sports, I’m a huge advocate for girls and women in STEM, because there have always been stereotypes of engineers and programmers and well-known scientists being men simply due to the more “masculine” nature of the STEM subjects. This is why I think more girls should be introduced to STEM at a young age, in a way which can combat the stereotypes surrounding the STEM fields. I believe the problem with these stereotypes is that most existing STEM programs and educational institutions lack a fundamental concept that should be taught concurrently with STEM subjects – art & design. Design is the glue that holds together all of the other STEM fields and which ultimately brings ideas to life.
I started working at a youth educational organization called The STEAM Project in 2017 and since then, I’ve worked there as a summer camp program director, technical lead, and virtual program developer and instructor. The STEAM Project is a design-based organization dedicated to teaching youth that STEM is not just science, tech, engineering and math; you’ll notice that there’s an extra “A” in STEAM, which stands for art. The possibilities are endless there. It’s an environment that fosters innovation for both the kids and the staff by giving them the skills and the freedom to design and express themselves through their coding, building, and science projects.
Working at The STEAM Project, I’ve been proud to witness so many young girls fall in love with STEM and thrive in an environment where they feel comfortable to be creative, inquisitive, and to just be themselves. Though the stereotypes are still there, I think what we’re doing is invaluable to building a more inclusive and innovative environment when it comes to girls and women in STEM.
What is a goal you have achieved you are proud of? How did you achieve your goal?
A goal that I achieved was graduating from my engineering program with honours as a double varsity athlete. I’m proud of this because I’ve always valued education and sports equally and never wanted to focus solely on one in order to excel in the other. Achieving this required lots of time management and figuring out the most efficient ways for me to study. At first, I struggled in my Mechatronics program because it just wasn’t for me, so I took all the opportunities I had in order to figure out what I liked. This included switching disciplines, doing a year-long internship, a year-long exchange program, and joining multiple different clubs. Doing so may have extended my undergrad, but it helped me figure out my likes and dislikes and allowed me to pursue things that I truly enjoyed. Once I figured that out, everything just fell into place for me, and time management got so much easier!
What advice do you have for parents, coaches or sport administrators to improve inclusion in sport?
My advice would be to keep in mind that sports isn’t just about competing and winning. It’s also about building self-confidence, building relationships with teammates, competitors, and coaches, and developing soft skills that are applied to all aspects of life. All of this starts with an environment where athletes feel comfortable being themselves – performance will naturally follow because of the athlete’s willingness to show up, to learn, and to give you that 110% in an environment where they feel included, respected, and understood.
For parents, learn the balance between being supportive and pushing too hard for results. Give your athletes a safe space at home to decompress and to learn who they are outside of sports.
For coaches, you’re probably the second biggest role model that athletes will look up to after their parents, especially for young individual-sport athletes. For myself, while on the court, the coach sitting behind me was always the person I trusted the most in that moment. I find that it’s much easier to build that sort of trust when your coach is someone who supports you both on and off the court. The first step towards building that sort of trust is to create an inclusive training environment and establishing open communication where you can both listen and learn from each other.
5 words that best describe me are:
EASYGOING | ADAPTABLE | HARD-WORKING | DEPENDABLE | CARING