Inspiring STEM careers from an early age

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Most awards for women in technology feature inspiring figures in business or academia, but this year’s 39 FDM everywoman in Technology Awards finalists include a mother and daughter who are promoting women in STEM in the vital early stages before they begin their careers.

Steph and Jess Scott are from Newcastle High School for Girls where Steph is a Physics teacher and Jess an A-Level student.

Steph is up for the Academic Award category, awarded to a woman in academia who has made an outstanding contribution to technology and science and whose work has made or has the potential to make a significant long-term impact in STEM. Jess, meanwhile, is a finalist in The One to Watch Award category – awarded to a girl aged 11-18 who is actively encouraging girls to study STEM subjects at school-level.

We love STEM

Steph, who has been teaching for 14 years, concentrates her efforts on encouraging and supporting students to seek out the local STEM opportunities that many do not realise exist. In February, she organised a ‘We love STEM’ day on Valentine’s Day which involved workshops from external presenters with science and technology themes during lesson time.

This year for the first time ever, two girls from the school have been awarded the prestigious Arkwright Associate scholarship with help from Steph, who supported them throughout their entire application processes. One of them is Jess.

Steph also co-ordinates the Royal Institution Engineering masterclasses for year nine and eleven girls and has arranged trips to engineering companies, science hubs, CREST Awards and the promotion of external events such as the Northumbrian Water Group Innovation Festival.

She says she is fortunate that there is a good network of events aimed at encouraging girls into STEM in the Newcastle area. For instance, the Institute of Physics is very active in the North East and there are lots of different events on offer like science fairs which show students a range of STEM careers. “It is as important to know what you don’t like as what you do like,” says Steph.

She adds that the events are a good way to counter stereotypes about careers such as engineering: “Students still tend to have a stereotyped view of engineering as being about people in yellow helmets. It is difficult for students to know what engineering is unless they get to go and see what happens in companies that employ engineers and get to speak to role models, especially women, who can tell them what their options are. They find out that it is not just about traditional engineering jobs, but things like wearable technology which they use without thinking where it comes from.”

Positive role models and changing attitudes

Steph thinks positive role models are vital as is having a variety of different ways to get into STEM careers. “Everyone’s interest is triggered in a different way. Some people might relate to hearing about different career paths and others might be more inspired by doing practical things.”

She adds that she is lucky that there are some very forward-thinking companies there who offer work experience and open days.

She is keen to highlight that STEM is not something apart from other subjects and to show that so many of the skills are used across the curriculum. The school plans to hold a STEM Valentine’s Day event every other year. This year there will be a careers fair with a STEM section where STEM-related careers will be prominent.

Steph says she has seen a change in girls’ attitude to STEM careers in her time as a teacher. “There has been a big culture shift. Girls do now say they would like to be an engineer. In the past the only science-related career they would mentions was a doctor or vet. They are thinking more broadly now,” she says.

STEM ambassador

Jess is the eldest of Steph’s three daughters. She is doing four A Levels. Not only was she awarded the prestigious Arkwright Scholarship, but she is about to participate in the Engineering Education Scheme.

At school she actively encourages younger girls to enrol for the the British Science Association’s CREST Awards during “STEM Club” sessions, which she is runs with another student. CREST Awards provide science enrichment opportunities to inspire and engage 5-to-19-year olds.

Jess has participated in the Royal Institute Engineering Masterclasses, working with others solving real-life problems and learning about different types of engineering. She also took part in the Formula 1 schools challenge, helping to design a successful racing car, was a STEM Ambassador for the ‘We Love STEM Day’ and organised STEM activities at the Senior School Open Morning where young visitors participated in making a bionic hand and a Lego bridge.

Winning the Arkwright Association Scholarship involved doing an exam focused on problem-solving and an interview where Jess was grilled by engineers and Arkwright fellows. To qualify she needed a sponsor from a local company.

She secured this through winning a design the teenage bedroom of the future competition at Northumbrian Water’s innovation festival and appearing on local radio with a Northumbrian Water manager who agreed to sponsor her. The scholarship gives her a few hundred pounds  year to spend on academic-related equipment, books and university open days. The scholarship also gives her the ability to start building a useful career network through a series of events with academics and other experts.

Jess has applied to do Engineering at Cambridge and is getting work experience at Cambridge-based firm ARM in half term.

Steph, who taught Jess when she was younger, says part of her interest in science is inherited, but adds that Jess is very self-motivated. She states: “I sometimes think people must think I am a pushy mum, but it’s not like that at all. She takes herself to science festivals and Institute of Physics events in her spare time. She is quite driven.”

Everywoman simply says: “Jess is a role model who shows younger girls that her hard work has truly paid off.”

The Award winners will be announced in a ceremony in London on 8th February.

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