STEM careers: inspiring the next generation
Michelle Galley and Alice Fletcher | Features
We all recognise the need to encourage students to consider careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths). Here, activity provider Michelle Galley explains why it’s important to expose youngsters to extra opportunities to learn about science, and Society member Alice Fletcher tells us what volunteers running these activities gain from getting involved.
THE STEM OUTREACH PROVIDER
STEM Sussex, the outreach department based at the University of Brighton, aims to inspire the next generation to pursue courses or careers in STEM by organising a host of engaging outreach activities, including festivals, schemes and competitions.
The motivation to do this comes not just from a passion for STEM subjects and a desire to show young people the diverse and impactful careers that are on offer, but also to address the STEM skills gap in the South East of England. Recent statistics show that STEM subjects have increased in popularity in the region, but are still lagging behind the national average in both uptake and achievement.
However, much is being done to address this, and it is an improving picture. In Sussex last year, 700 individuals with STEM backgrounds from well over 200 organisations helped enthuse over 45,000 students from across the South East.
STEM outreach, in all its forms, has an enormous impact on students. Alex Holmes, a STEM teacher at Millais School in Crawley, summarised the benefits of STEM outreach for his pupils as follows.
‘We really value the opportunities we get to work with people from companies through workshops on projects and competitions ... The difference that it makes is at two levels. One is helping students to relate different subjects at school. They will often talk about “this isn’t a science lesson” or “why do we have to learn about this in maths?” It helps students to understand that they are all related. It is also about opening up their minds to the career opportunities that are out there, which then gets them excited about learning these subjects at school.’
Allowing children to take part in hands-on activities in a STEM club or at an event does inspire students. Students who are involved start to see the diverse career possibilities. People coming from industry have authenticity, specialist knowledge and can even challenge stereotypes about who can, for example, become a civil engineer or a research scientist.
As an experienced teacher, Alex has seen the results of STEM outreach. ‘The things that work really well are companies that come into school to deliver events ... for the older students, it is really valuable if they can go and visit company sites ... they [employers] support us with information about careers, as there seems to be a gap regarding this in schools at the moment.’
To learn about how to get involved in STEM outreach, please visit www.stemsussex.co.uk.
THE ENDOCRINOLOGIST VOLUNTEER
As a scientist, I feel I have an obligation to inspire and inform the next generation about STEM subjects and careers, so last year I became a STEM Ambassador.
Unfortunately, within schools, the age-old rumours of STEM subjects being ‘difficult’ and ‘boring’ seem to have persisted. By being a STEM Ambassador, I can begin to dispel some of these rumours, and share some of the real-life applications of these subjects beyond the classroom. As I enjoy what I do, I wanted to share my enthusiasm and passion to inspire young people in the STEM subjects and to demonstrate the exciting career options that these subjects provide. I also wanted to challenge some of the stereotypes associated with STEM careers to show that anyone can be a scientist (or have any other STEM career).
However, shortly after joining the STEM Ambassador scheme, I realised that it was not only an opportunity to inspire, but also a way of being inspired myself. Engaging in STEM activities allows me to take a step back from my PhD, and reminds me of the bigger picture of my research, so helping to provide a fresh perspective. In addition, through being a STEM Ambassador, I have needed to think outside of the box to communicate complex subject matter to young people in an exciting and engaging way. This has aided my communication and presentation skills, as well as my creative thinking.
Beyond the academic benefits of being a STEM Ambassador, most importantly, it’s fun! You have the opportunity to attend STEM events around the country and meet lots of new people: young people and fellow STEM ambassadors alike. This has been particularly useful for me as a PhD student, as I have found out more about different career paths that fellow STEM Ambassadors have taken from similar starting points.
However, for me, the biggest benefit of being a STEM Ambassador has to be the sense of achievement obtained when you see the excitement and enthusiasm in faces of young people as you inspire them in a subject that you are passionate about.
PhD Student, University of Birmingham
If you would like to become a STEM Ambassador, visit www.stemnet.org.uk/ambassadors.