26 Feb 2013
Ambassadors for STEM subjects - Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics - can play an incalculable role in inspiring school students to take up science to A level and beyond, as a recent meeting showed.
Hosted jointly by SCI's London Group and the Chemical Physical Society of the University of London, the meeting on 5 Feb 2013 highlighted the many ways in which seasoned practitioners, with their expertise and experience, in STEM and related disciplines can get involved in schools. It also emphasised how STEM ambassadors can motivate and enthuse the next generation of young students.
Five speakers gave presentations followed by a panel-style question and answer session. Struan Campbell, from STEMNET, gave details on how someone can become a STEM Ambassador and what the process involves. STEMNET creates opportunities to inspire young people in STEM and by doing so enables young people to develop their creativity and problem-solving skills. This in turn widens their employment choices and supports the UK's future competitiveness. STEMNET gives ambassadors initial training and CRB checks followed by matching the needs or requests from a school to an appropriate STEM Ambassador.
Two current ambassadors gave a brief outline of their experiences. Steve Plumridge, CEO of Continuum Scientific Ltd, showed the impact he had on a variety of activities at his local schools including helping judge projects, careers evenings and participating as a leader in activities. The inspiration for his participation is partly from his scientific interest and from his own school-age children.
Laura Fenner enthusiastically described her experience in showing students the 'magic' of magnetism in the classroom and the Gauss gun. On a personal level, she highlighted that her experience in schools had given her confidence in relating to young people. It had improved her ability to communicate and her public speaking skills, and helped her decide on a career as a teacher.
Adrian Fenton, British Science Association, gave details of the nationally recognised CREST (CREativity in Science and Technology) Award scheme. The Gold CREST Award requires undertaking an extended project with a mentor in STEM who often happens to be a STEM ambassador. Universities on their UCAS forms look out for potential students who have completed CREST Awards as this gives an indication that a young person has done something in addition to their school studies which highlights their dedication and interest.
Finally Jasbir Lota, Head of STEM at Parmiter's School, gave several examples of how activities organised by STEM ambassadors have helped to inspire his students. Several of his students have chosen STEM subjects at A Level and university due to their experiences in the schools STEM Clubs, he says. For instance, one student was given an offer to study Civil Engineering at Oxford University as she was asked at her interview about concrete. As the student had made concrete in the classroom when she was 12 years old she was able to explain in detail what concrete was.
Dr Lota says the input of STEM ambassadors in schools is vital to give students the opportunity to have challenging 'hands-on' activities in the real world. This increases their experienced-based learning and thinking. The value of such visits and trips to industry and learned bodies is immeasurable. Students gain confidence, enhance their knowledge, get inspired… and also see the value and relevance of their school curriculum. Furthermore, students get the chance to see possible career and further study opportunities which they had not thought of before.
There was much interest at the end of the talks from those listening on how to become a STEM ambassador and the speakers were bombarded with questions over wine and nibbles. If you would like to find out more, please see the websites below.
Jasbir Lota and Claire Skipper
SCI London Group