Introduction and Background
Engaging and inspiring young people in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) has long been identified as an area of key strategic importance economically, developmentally and socially . Studies such as the Royal Society’s 2005 “Taking a Leading Role” identify role models and meeting professional scientists as key factors in career and study choices, while organizations such as STEMNET have been formed to “increase young people’s choices and chances through STEM.”
European Regional Development Funding supported Durham University in taking on the challenge of raising aspirations in STEM in disadvantaged communities. To this end, we undertook informal research with teachers and students in areas identified as having issues of social and economic deprivation, and with low levels of progression into higher education. This feedback, similarly to research findings by The International Centre for Guidance Studies, The Guide Association and Warwick Institute for Employment Research, suggested that they felt there was a local need for high quality, informative and enjoyable resources and events highlighting STEM careers. This included increasing students’ awareness of the wide reach of STEM by including careers that are not traditionally encapsulated by the STEM agenda such as catering, media and art. Additionally, the importance of involving role models that lived and worked locally to demonstrate local opportunities was highlighted.
In order to address these issues, we investigated different engagement models and the current provision to these areas by organizations such as STEMNET and Newcastle’s Centre for Life, but also by non-STEM providers. Crucially, we did not wish to compete with others, but form active partnerships combining knowledge and skills. As a result, we formed a partnership with Creative Partnerships and ARC, Stockton’s Art Centre. They had previously trialed running careers events for the creative industries where students chose the content. Putting young people at the centre of the development process ensured that the content was appropriate and interesting to the target audience. This differed from traditional adult-developed events which run the risk of being considered irrelevant, inappropriate or out-of-touch. We adapted this model for STEM and put young people at the heart of the event. It was crucial that the young people held ownership over their project and were supported in developing knowledge, skills and personal confidence. The young people would become ambassadors for STEM and their truly unique, personally-developed event. As a result, Full on futures projects began, one in Stockton and one in Derwentside, in partnership with Derwentside Enterprise.
Aims and objectives
Due to the number of stakeholders (young people, teachers, careers advisers, businesses, HE/FE institutions, enrichment and engagement providers), it was crucial to have well-defined and agreed aims and objectives.
Our aim was to develop a unique and inspirational event that encourages school-age students to consider future careers in STEM, and become more aware of opportunities.
Our objectives were:
- To recruit school/college students to organise and coordinate the event, and support them through training, etc
- To produce inclusive and engaging events that
- demonstrated the relevance of STEM
- allowed students to consider a diverse range of careers (not necessarily traditional)
- enabled active participation
- did not re-emphasise negative stereotypes regarding scientists, engineers etc.
- helped inform choice in academic options
- To evaluate the event’s effectiveness with regards to its aims
Learning objectives for the organising students included:
- developing an understanding of and skills in event management;
- problem solving, negotiation, team-work, and communication;
and for the event participants:
- deepening understanding of STEM career opportunities;
- positive attitudes towards personal abilities;
- being inspired.
Project Development and Outcomes
Twenty-one Year 9 pupils from Our Lady & St Bede’s and Grangefield Schools attended weekly sessions for four months. Over this period they developed skills in event management, knowledge of careers, and meeting and interviewing potential workshop providers. On 4th May 2011, they ran Boom11. Nearly 400 young people (Year 9-Year 12) attended participating in a selection of twelve interactive sessions including astronomy (Durham University), the ultimate science lesson (Engage Project), science cooking (Chapters Hotel), and investigating second life (Teesside University). Some activities engaged members of the public in Stockton’s main street. Teachers and parents attended a showcase event in the evening.
In Derwentside, eight Sixth Form pupils from St Bede’s School in Lanchester undertook preliminary development of the project, which seven Key Stage 4 pupils from Tanfield School took over in an intensive week of preparation, some even dedicating time over their Christmas holidays. All eight Derwentside schools attended their two-day event including two SEN schools. Over 650 Year 9 pupils participated in a selection of 32 interactive workshops provided by 27 different organizations including the NHS, P&G, and the Centre for Life. A wide range of topics were covered, from space art to mechanical engineering and health to invention.
Impact and Sustainability
Formal and informal evaluation was performed including interviews and graffiti walls. Students commented on the range of activities they had participated in with incredibly positive comments about the events and STEM, for example, “It was awesome” and “I heart science.” The skills development and growing confidence of the organizing students was highlighted. Teacher feedback was positive with many requests for the project to be repeated with their students, and one year on, students still recall activities. Particularly in Derwentside, the impact on the schools has been noticeable, and we have forged links with schools that previously would not engage with university-related activities. Many of the trainers, teachers, practitioners and event support staff volunteered their time and, having enjoyed the experience, many have expressed interest in participating in future projects. This continued support is maintained through updates and in-kind support, and is crucial to the sustainability of the programme. Our learning and skills through Full on futures is informing other projects and staff/teacher training. Building upon the successes, two current Full on futures are running, one with a group of young people who are not in education, employment or training, whilst interest and enthusiasm for future projects grows.