STEM Ambassadors at EPCC

Author: Alistair Grant
Posted: 25 Jun 2014 | 10:21

What is a STEM Ambassador?

This is a UK-wide scheme to encourage young people to take up STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects. A STEM Ambassador is someone who works in a STEM-related field and has an enthusiasm for talking about and demonstrating their work to young people to inspire them to take up STEM-related subjects. STEM Ambassadors are all volunteers who join the programme to share their knowledge and appreciation of the subjects they work in.

STEM Ambassadors don't need to be great orators or amazingly charismatic, they just need to have enthusiasm and be able to put across what they do and why they do it.

Why do we need STEM Ambassadors?

The simple answer is that the UK as a whole does not have enough people with STEM skills. Too few are choosing to go into STEM and its related subjects to support industry, according to the annual CBI/Pearson Education and Skills report published in June 2013. A few highlights in relation to STEM are:

  • 39% of firms that need employees with STEM skills have difficulties recruiting staff
  • 41% of firms say shortages will persist for the next three years
  • 31% of firms report young people lack the technical skills they need.

Unless young people see STEM as a viable and interesting choice, this situation will only get worse.

EPCC and STEM Ambassadors

Over the past two years, members of EPCC have been actively involved in outreach and education activities targeting various science festivals and schools, which you can read about in our Outreach blog. Using an evolving set of activities we have been trying to introduce the concepts and ideas behind high performance computing, why it is needed, how the public benefit and publicising the supercomputers that are hosted by EPCC.

This on-going outreach work falls neatly into the kinds of things that STEM Ambassadors do, so it seemed natural to get involved with the initiative. This gives us a larger network of people to work with, to get ideas from, publish our own ideas to and also to get ideas about what type of events we should try to attend. More tangibly the STEM Ambassador programme deals with issues of providing a disclosure check for its volunteers, provides insurance for events and keeps records of who is doing what and when so that people can coordinate and advertise events to interested parties. 

Currently EPCC has two registered STEM Ambassadors in its ranks, and recently organised an in-house induction session where another six EPCC members of staff completed the registration forms to be added to the STEM network (STEMNET). The induction process is a prerequisite to becoming a STEM Ambassador. The main purpose is to fill in the disclosure form - STEMNET was finding too many people were not completing the disclosure form correctly and thought it would be cost-effective to provide a process to walk people through filling it in - and to give some background and guidance on what being a STEM Ambassador entails. To maintain STEM Ambassador status you must participate in at least one STEMNET-sanctioned activity per annum. On successful completion of this process EPCC will have eight STEM ambassadors, which is around ~10% of the staff. 

Our association with the UK government-supported STEM network will allow us to better publicise our outreach work and allow others to get access to the materials we produce. We hope we will inspire more young people to take up STEM subjects, allowing them to help build a better future through a more thorough understanding of our world.

STEMNET

STEMNET is an independent charity, which receives funding from:

  • UK Government Department for Business, Innovation, and Skills (BIS)
  • UK Government Department for Education (DfE)
  • The Scottish Government
  • The Gatsby Charitable Foundation.

Author

Alistair Grant, EPCC