As I was seated on the hard wooden floor in the assembly hall, I looked on in amazement at the man at the front of the hall.
I really liked listening to him talk about his job as a scientist and the cool things he got to do every day. Although I wasn’t able to fully understand everything he said at the time, I knew that day that I was going to pursue a career in science or engineering.
This is a memory from my early childhood where a guest speaker (I can’t remember who?) came to our school to talk about his career. I am sure you all remember someone like that, and perhaps you too had the same eureka moment about your future career path. Well, you see this is the power of telling your story, and in doing so inspiring the next generation!
Throughout my university years and career so far, I have always strived to volunteer in schools and play my part in giving back to today’s students. After the inspirations and insights, I gained from similar events in my own life, I am a strong advocate for these activities. For my profession, they fall under the umbrella term of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths) ambassadors. I signed up during my first graduate job and I have learned so much since.
For the last 7 years, I have been an active STEM ambassador (5–6 events per year) working with students of all ages on small projects, interview tips, and giving talks on my career. I am always energised by these interactions with students, and I feel a tremendous amount of satisfaction that I can inspire others, and share novel insights to give them another perspective. It is important to me to give back as I progress in my career and working in schools is a great way to share that learning and experience as a positive role model.
In this article, I am going to share a few ways that you too can get involved in STEM outreach and some of the benefits I have seen from doing so.
Ways to Get Involved
- Become a STEM Ambassador
If you work in a STEM career (this is very broad but you can check online), then visit the link below and sign up to become an ambassador. There is usually some online training and a background check before you can actually attend your first event. Once you are registered you will receive regular emails about upcoming events. (stem.org.uk)
2. Contact your local school
If you live close to a particular school or keep in touch with teachers from your alma mater, then go direct and arrange your own event. This could take the form of a careers workshop, your career path, or a live Q&A with students interested in your profession.
3. Get involved with an Institution
Another great way to hear about events is through an institution. There are plenty available depending on your field, a few common ones include IET, IMechE, IOP, ICE, and the Royal Society to name a few. They all advertise events online and in their monthly magazines so this is perfect for beginners who want to get involved in a pre-arranged event.
4. Produce your own content
In the current times of COVID, most events have moved online. But this is a fantastic opportunity for those with an entrepreneurial mindset. You now have access to even more students, and the need for such content has never been higher! So you could consider writing, videoing yourself, or creating some form of literature for students and schools to consume. I am happy to sync up with you if you have any ideas! 😉
How it has helped me?
- Improved confidence
Working with students of any age requires confidence, not just in your ability to present but also in yourself. There is nothing that will make you more self-aware than being in front of a group of students who may not all be engaged in what you are saying. For me, this was a scary experience, but it teaches you how to improvise, how to adapt your content, and deliver your message.
A great example is when I spoke about my job to 8–9-year-olds, I chose pictures over words, and in the end, I didn’t even finish 5 slides as I had so many questions. But interaction is much better than a 1-way conversation. Whereas, older students are interested more in the content and you as a person. You need to find a way to relate to them and make your content interesting, otherwise, it can seem like you are this person “way over there”, and they are just students.
2. Knowledge of the Education System
The system changes over time and even now many things are different compared to my time. So it helps to keep up-to-date with the latest developments, not only to help with your volunteering but it's also useful if you kids.
3. Better Time Management
It goes without saying that volunteering is normally done on your time. Some companies may allow you to take 1/2 days here and there but generally, the planning, traveling and the event itself will be your own. So time management is key, and it is often useful to plan out some rough periods in the year where you might be able to commit to events. Even so, it is now easier than ever to participate in online events from the comfort of your home so this is less of an excuse. 😎
4.Sense of Fulfilment
I remember finishing my first event and just feeling this overwhelming sense of achievement and happiness. For me it's those small conversations with a few students where you realise that what you have said has really clicked. I still get this feeling even today and it is a strong driver for me to continue.
As I have gotten older, and I like to think wiser :), I have realised that the ultimate reward in life is giving to others.
For me, STEM outreach is the perfect medium to do exactly this and inspire the next generation to solve the problems of tomorrow. It is our duty as professionals to do so, as we can each describe our own journey, challenges and successes which will leave a different impression on each student. You never know when a student may have a eureka moment as a result of something you said or did.
I can remember a few such times during my formative years, where we had guest speakers or I watched something about science on the news. All of these events inspired me to become the person I am today.
So I encourage you to go out there and tell your story, whether or not you work in STEM, give back to the next generation! Not only will you impart them with your wisdom, but you will feel great for doing so. I can promise you the feeling is addictive, and given the current circumstances, there are plenty of ways to connect with students online.
Thanks for reading.
Take care and Kind Regards,