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By Andrew Clarke on

The ambassadors of inspiration

Andrew Clarke, STEM Ambassador Hub Manager for West Yorkshire, writes about the work STEM Ambassadors do, as part of Bradford Science Festival and beyond.

While the nation is in turmoil and schools are in confusion, the STEM Ambassador programme is forging ahead. The nationally recognised STEM Ambassador volunteer programme, which is nearly 20 years old, helps young people by encouraging them to take up STEM (Science, Technology, Education and Maths) careers so that workplace skills gaps can be bridged. Ambassadors are volunteers from industry who go into schools, colleges and non-school groups to inspire the next generation in these subject areas. Many of these Ambassadors want to ‘give back’ to schools and their communities. They do this by annually volunteering with Bradford Science Festival.

The programme’s greatest local contribution is taking part in the festival, which of course is sponsored by the National Science and Media Museum. Last year, 23 Ambassadors gave totalled nearly 200 hours over a warm summer’s weekend to work with young people, giving advice to families, making small experiments and helping out.

This year, during this current predominantly online Bradford Science Festival, Ambassadors have come from construction, robotics, bio engineering and rail industries as well as physics and maths backgrounds to take part. They have filled out ‘spotlight’ forms detailing their career progressions. Some 10,000 of these forms have been distributed to schools in Bradford. Additionally, cartoon-like drawings have been created, outlining career routes of our Ambassadors. These have been sent to schools too, to motivate young people. You can see an example below.

STEM Ambassador cartoon profile of Dr Kulvinder Panesar

Ambassadors are also taking part as panellists, giving careers tips and radio interviews. For example, they were involved in a post-viewing discussion surrounding our special screening of Marvel’s Black Panther movie. They will feature as interviewees on BCB Radio and companies from the region will be represented.

The idea behind STEM Ambassador involvement in the festival overall is to work with young people and their families to consider STEM careers, give them a taste of the careers that are available and to raise young people’s ‘Science Capital’ or knowledge of science. This has been done successfully in the past, in the STEM City section of the festival, when Ambassadors have worked with young people, parents and guardians.

The STEM Ambassador Programme has been a great partner to the National Science and Media Museum. In West Yorkshire, it is headquartered at the museum, where it works with the STEM Learning organisation and the Science Museum Group. When the museum’s Wonderlab gallery opened over 3 years ago, Ambassadors were on hand to share their expertise with young visitors and families. Also, when new exhibits have been developed, Ambassadors have served as advisers. Our Ambassadors also regularly interact with visiting school groups at the museum.

Over 700 Ambassadors work together with schools, colleges and non-school groups across West Yorkshire. This is now being done using the power of the internet. Daily, Ambassadors are a godsend to many teachers because they can provide real-life insight and guidance. I often tell Ambassadors that by their presence in these settings, they are saying to students ‘If I can do it, you can do it’. Ambassadors assist teachers in their lessons, provide experiments, give career talks and invite students to their own workplaces, when safe to do so.

During 2019, our fantastic STEM Ambassadors in the Bradford district, racked up 2,532 hours assisting in educational institutions and non-school groups, such as the Scouts and the Girls Brigade. Much of what the programme does, because of the current pandemic, is done momentarily online and remotely. This method of operation has worked surprisingly well.

When this horrible pandemic subsides, our skills gap may be even more acute. As of the time of writing, we are still due to completely sever ties with Europe at the year-end. We will still need personnel to build power stations, install cabling so that electrical cars can be charged, and indeed to spearhead a new green economy not to mention allowing the UK to compete globally. Here in West Yorkshire, it is recognised that companies will need more young talented people. Digital organisations like AND Digital, TransUnion, IBM and Channel 4, for example have established themselves in the region. Research has shown that young women are particularly underrepresented in STEM careers and there is a huge focus in recruiting them. In fact, there is huge potential in our diverse under-18 population!

As it is Black History Month, Ambassadors are asked to particularly interact with those audiences that may not have heard of the achievements of black STEM individuals from history. Outside this festival as a STEM Hub, we have created an online BAME (Black Asian and Minority Ethnic) timeline activity where we invite Ambassadors to help inform young people about different cultures and history. We have also created an online BAME Forum, where employers and Ambassadors can talk through issues regarding race, in what has been a year of tremendous social upheaval worldwide. My hope is that one day we do not have ‘black’ history, but simply ‘history’ where the achievements of all can be celebrated equally.

But it is to social mobility that the programme can have some of its greatest victories, by encouraging students from across Bradford and beyond to establish a STEM career for themselves. Importantly, more young women and BAME students need to be shown that STEM careers are viable and necessary. We need more Ambassadors from all socio-economic backgrounds to encourage and motivate all our young people. Ambassadors, therefore, must be in the inspiration business.

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