Students exercise and develop communication and collaborative skills through working with their peers and by acting as STEM role models at St Mary's girls and in the wider community.
During enrichment time, students are supported and guided by mentors (Mrs Lewis, Mrs Chatterjee and Dr Alves Martins). Each girl sets personal goals and monitors her progress through to completion of the Award. Each student is encouraged to articulate and share their personal journey on a weekly basis.
The STEMM Award boosts confidence and encourages girls to identify areas in which they need further development such as skills related to engaging the public, which requires students to demonstrate use of social media or technology as well as delivering events to connect with the wider public.
Inspiring the next generation
As part of the ‘Inspiring the next generation’ section of the STEMM Award, we decided to launch a poster competition for the lower school.
Initially, this was intended to provide a science presence on a notice board in the dining room which students could not miss, but due to Covid-19, the competition had to go virtual – thereby creating an opportunity for both us and the participants to improve our digital design skills.
The idea was that students would research something science-related for a specific month and then produce a poster on this newsworthy event and send it to us. We would then judge the posters, select the best for publication and reward the winners. We made some example posters to demonstrate what we were looking for, including ones on specific achievements of Alexa Canady, Bill Gates and Shinya Yamanaka.
As Covid-19 restrictions prevented us from being in the same room as younger students, we decided to record the instructions for the Lower School and share them as a Loom presentation. We spent some time learning the mechanics of Loom, a program that allows you to record voices over a PowerPoint presentation – but we picked it up quite quickly and worked out how to edit our presentation afterwards too, so that it flowed well.
Developing Skills and Knowledge
During the pandemic, I consider myself fortunate to have been able to explore the STEMM resources online. I have completed two FutureLearn courses – the University of Exeter’s ‘Invisible world’ and the University of Southampton’s ‘Exploring Our Ocean’.
These courses took the form of pre-recorded videos and articles. This means of study provided a significant degree of flexibility, since I could schedule the learning sessions to fit in with other commitments and do them at my own pace. Although the courses were virtual, the experience was real. The excellent quality of the courses, and the careful organisation of the course content along with the multimedia presentation, succeeded both in conveying knowledge and engrossing students.
The courses I did were both closely linked to the natural world, and in the midst of a global pandemic, they seemed particularly valuable as they urged us to examine the relationship between our species and the ecosystem.
It was not until the session discussing the evolution of oxygen that I realised I had always taken the presence of oxygen for granted, in the same way as humans took nature for granted throughout history. Doing these courses, at a time when people were becoming more aware of the importance of what they had once been used to, was a striking intersection of scientific theories and reality.
They not only brought me a gain in knowledge, but also made me reflect on how we can make our lives more sustainable with and without the help of science.
Developing Skills and Knowledge
It was during the pandemic that the online library first came to my attention. Joining Cambridge Central Library in September last year gave me free access to a variety of online resources, including periodicals, e-books and audiobooks.
As an enthusiastic STEMM student, reading scientific magazines and books has certainly enhanced my knowledge and interest in science, and I have also been able to log this activity for the Youth STEMM Award. The first item I borrowed was the ‘New Scientist' magazine, recommended by both my peers and teachers. Published weekly, it has kept me informed about the newest and the most exciting findings in all branches of science.
Another service of the online library that I have benefited from hugely is the availability of audiobooks; I find I can easily lose focus when reading books for long periods of time, and audiobooks seem to be the solution.
During lockdown, I listened to ‘The Epigenetics Revolution’ by Nessa Carey, which explored many historically important experiments and how they have shaped the modern understanding of epigenetics.
Shaping your future
In compliance with the Government's Covid policies, work experience, too, is being arranged online rather than in person.
One such was the virtual programme organised by the NHS: ‘Insights into Science Careers’. At the time, I was uncertain about where my enthusiasm for STEMM subjects would lead me in the future. The activity provided me with a means of delving deeper into some scientific jobs, especially those in a hospital setting. In September 2020, I put in my applications for two different placements: one regarding general science occupations, the other exploring the careers of radiologists and pharmacists. Luckily, I was given the opportunity to attend both.
The placements were run by specialists currently working in the NHS, who provided very useful information about their daily occupations, which range from analysing blood samples to the in-depth study of disease within body tissue. They also talked about how their work is closely associated with clinical functions such as the diagnosis and the treatment of diseases. I was particularly intrigued and surprised by the fact that a major part of their work involves complex, automated technology.
The Insight programme was a truly valuable experience for me and helped me to construct a clearer image of my future career path.
Shaping your future
I attended the virtual open day at the University of St Andrews in which I learned about the modules and direct entry system (which makes it possible for students who have studied a subject at a more advanced level than Scottish Highers to enter university in the second year in some STEM courses).
I attended taster lessons on astrophysics (my chosen subject) and learned what it would be like to study this here. I also learned about the sports community.
This experience provided me with a clearer view of the factors related to St Andrews that I will take into account when I apply.
Engaging the public
The crucial ‘Engaging the Public’ component is one which the pandemic has made particularly difficult to fulfil due to social distancing guidelines and a lack of in-person events.
However, the pandemic has also given us a chance to learn new skills, particularly in regard to technology, and in order to help us achieve this section as a group we have created a YouTube channel where we can engage with the public virtually.
There are many components to creating a YouTube channel such as creating channel art, learning about the rules of copyright and creating the actual videos. Learning how to make the videos was very interesting and improved our presenting skills, which will be extremely useful for future projects.
This YouTube channel is a really great way to show our passion for STEMM and gives us the freedom to delve into areas that we are each individually intrigued by. Additionally, it enables us to share our knowledge with the public and other STEMM enthusiasts.
While it is a very time-consuming project, it is great fun, and I don’t think I would have had the confidence and extra push to start this project without taking part in the YSA.
Developing Skills and Knowledge
One of the opportunities brought about by the pandemic has been the abundance of free talks and events available online from various institutes.
While I would probably have attended many of these talks without the award, my fellow participants in the Youth STEMM Award and I have been able to log the hours we have spent listening to talks as part of the ‘Developing your own skills and knowledge’ section.
For instance, on March 3rd I had the pleasure of watching a talk featuring the famous physicist and novelist Brian Greene in conversation with a New York Times journalist about consciousness, and how our own internal experience links with the beginning of the universe. Impenetrable though this may sound, Greene had an excellent way of describing all the concepts he brought up and making them comprehensible for the audience. While watching this talk, I was able to write up short notes into my review on the YSA website.
Personally, I’ve found participating in the YSA over the past few years to be affirming as it constitutes a progress bar for my personal development and allows me to look back over the various activities I’ve participated in, giving me an increased sense of purpose.”