Tamasin Greenough Graham, the STEM Ambassador Hub Manager for the Transpennine Hub, reflects on the singular moments that can kickstart a life-long love of STEM.
When we think about how to inspire young people to consider careers in STEM, our thoughts naturally turn towards our own experiences – what inspired us or demotivated us. How can we use this to help inform what we do? One of the benefits of joining others in taking a course is sharing experiences and developing an understanding of circumstances other than our own. So what have we learnt about inspiration from our fellow participants during this course?
Unsurprisingly, many participants were first drawn to a STEM career because they enjoyed these subjects at school. “My interest in engineering came primarily from the subjects I enjoyed - maths, physics, and problem solving activities.” says Rosa, a mechanical engineer from Hull, and this was echoed by many participants.
A personal approach
But of course, just having an interest or an ability in a subject at school is rarely enough. To take a pupils’ interest and develop it into aspiration takes a personal approach. Kareem, a new STEM Ambassador from London, told us “I was always good at the sciences and mathematics, although I never really had a passion for it. That was until a new Physics teacher joined my school and started teaching. She had so much enthusiasm and was really passionate about science and it really rubbed off on me. I enjoyed these subjects more and more and to when I left school decided to pursue a career in engineering.” Many participants mentioned inspirational teachers, or school staff who made the time to share their enthusiasm with individual pupils.
But equally important to some of our participants were memorable experiences that made an impression on them. Matt, who works in the automotive industry in the North East, remembered “as a small boy, Dad waking me up in the middle of the night to watch TV showing Neil Armstrong taking his first foot steps on the moon. This was a real inspiration to me even then, thinking of the almost impossible challenges that people faced in putting men on the moon. Dad told me that this was the easy bit. Getting them back was even harder” and Dania, who works on energy projects in France, traces her interest in engineering being sparked by a trip to the Falkirk Wheel. These one-off experiences were so meaningful that they’ve been remembered all these years later.
A singular experience
What can we learn from these personal reflections? How can they help us make an impact on young people? They remind us that we shouldn’t underestimate the power of a single experience or one personal connection. Although we’d love to provide all young people with constant reminders of the satisfaction that a STEM career can bring, even one person in a young person’s life or one meaningful experience, can enable them to overcome all sorts of barriers. Rosa’s enjoyment of work experience developed her determination: “Up to A-levels, I felt like no one understood my choices. My careers teacher asked in front of the class, "Why do you want to spend your days in dirty overalls?" It would have been easy to be influenced in another direction.” But she remembered her work experience placement “which showed me what the environment would be like.”
So let’s make the most of even the short interactions with young people where we can share our enthusiasm for STEM. As Diane, a secondary school technician, reflected after the first week of the course “I realise now that even in a 1 hour session with Year 6 students I have a have big impact on their view of STEM. I really like…how every experience we can give students could be the difference between taking STEM further or not.”