Researching STEM subject student ambassador programmes in the USA

Published: 5 Jul 2016

Author: Clare Gartland
Researching STEM subject student ambassador programmes in the USA

UK higher education institutions should take the opportunity to use Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) outreach activity to enable young people to develop a genuine understanding of the huge role STEM plays in our lives. This includes raising awareness of the real world applications and diverse opportunities available for all young people who develop an interest in these subject areas, according to a report by Clare Gartland, who recently spent five weeks in the USA researching student ambassador programmes aimed at stimulating interest in STEM subjects.

It is widely known that girls, young people from lower socio-economic groups, and black and minority ethnic young people are under-represented in STEM study in higher education and in STEM careers. Recent research has pointed to the importance of young peoples’ ‘self-identity’ in relation to these subject areas, and indicates that many young people assume that they are not suited to careers in STEM at an early age.

Clare is a senior lecturer in education at University Campus Suffolk. Her research was enabled by a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Travelling Fellowship award.

During her travels, Clare interviewed academics, organisers and ambassadors at a number of higher education institutions in the USA. Her research highlights several differences between outreach programmes in the USA and in the UK. In the USA funding incentives have led to the involvement of academics and large numbers of postgraduate students, which in turn has led to an increased focus on pedagogy and the subject content of ambassador activity.

“The focus of US university outreach activity on increasing science literacy amongst young people also provides opportunities for ambassadors to work with young people on innovative hands on activities designed to spark young people’s interest. This is often missing in UK outreach activity where ambassadors are more focused on recruitment for their institutions” – Clare Gartland

Clare’s research has also led her to recommend greater collaboration between UK universities, ambassadors working more closely with teachers, and an increased focus on raising awareness of the diversity of individuals working in STEM careers and the broad range of careers studying STEM subjects can lead to.

Clare is currently talking to the Royal Academy of Engineering and Engineering UK about her findings and will be disseminating her study widely to universities and STEM organisations across the country. She is also planning to work with organisations in East Anglia to develop a pilot project using ambassador led STEM activities for pupils and parents in local primary schools. Future plans include collaboration with Tufts University in Boston, USA, to further explore STEM ambassador work.

Notes to Editors

Contact: c.gartland@ucs.ac.uk