STEM Outreach: why it’s so important and how to get started

19 June 2020

Does anyone know what engineering is? Silence. Elizabeth and I looked at each other and knew we had come to the right place. This simple question we asked in the first session of the science club marked the beginning of an exciting year of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) outreach during our Year in Industry placement here at Springboard Pro.

The primary school science club

Children presenting their egg-protector vehicles at Fen Drayton primary school science club

We ran the science club at Springboard Pro’s partner primary school in Fen Drayton. The project was initiated by a meeting with the head teacher. This was very useful as it allowed us to fit our project into the children’s syllabus and get advice on running the sessions. We eventually settled on a plan for a 4-week egg-protector vehicle challenge with the children designing, building, and testing their vehicles. The children particularly enjoyed presenting their sketches in a Dragon Den’s style pitch, negotiating when buying materials and competing against the other team on the last day!

Alongside the main project we also did some interactive theory sessions, experiments, and games, all on the theme of transport. The children learnt about why we put ice on roads, safety measures in cars, emissions, asthma, crumple zones and lots more! At the end of each session they particularly enjoyed recording what they’d learnt by colourfully drawing and writing on their lab coats kindly donated by greenlight for girls

We learnt almost as much as the children did by leading the science club. From the importance of good planning and timekeeping for the smooth running of the sessions to the value of hands on work and demos to keep them engaged. The children taught us 3 key things; how to ask lots of questions, how to negotiate and why there is no such thing as a bad idea when brainstorming! We always came back into the lab the next day feeling refreshed and ready to go after being around such enthusiastic and creative minds.

The value of volunteering in STEM

Outreach in STEM is certainly not a “job done” task; it requires persistence, patience, and proactive efforts to break down hurdles built up over hundreds of years.  Since running the science club, we have both volunteered at several events including helping out at a  greenlight for girls design hackathon in London as well as leading a spaghetti marshmallow engineering challenge at their 10th anniversary event in Brussels, judging the innovation projects at the Cambridge FIRST LEGO league event and running a LEGO challenge a Girlguiding STEM day in Ely which you can read more about here.

How can you help support these events when they eventually resume? Well, there is always a need for venues, sponsors, and lots of volunteers. However big or small your financial or time contribution, I can assure you it will make a difference, to the next generation’s future’s, to you and to your industry!

Greenlight for girls 10th anniversary event, Brussels

The importance of virtual engagement

During these unusual times, it is more important than ever to keep kids engaged and inspired. Elizabeth and I have been making a video for a primary school’s virtual careers fair, creating online content for Headstart summer courses which be held virtually this summer and have contributed to a greenlight for girls broadcast. As a STEM ambassador, Elizabeth will also be helping out on a panel discussion at Stemtastic Live. And as a greenlight for girls ambassador, I recently launched a podcast called “Talking STEM with the women that shape it” which aims to present girls the breadth of exciting careers available to them within STEM through interviews with inspiring role models.

How can you support STEM outreach efforts inspired during these difficult times? I would encourage individuals and companies to help where they can by sharing content on social media, creating your own content, and donating to help keep fantastic initiatives going.

“Talking STEM with the women that shape it”, the podcast I have launched as a greenlight for girls ambasssador

How you can get involved

For companies:

  • Allow your employees to take x days a year as paid days to volunteer at outreach events. Many companies already do this and it’s a great way to show senior support
  • Attend careers fairs at all levels (primary, secondary, post-16s and universities)
  • Sponsor STEM events or organisations looking to increase STEM opportunities for disadvantaged groups
  • Create an internal ‘Outreach Coordinator’ role who could make other employees aware of what outreach opportunities there are and look into groups and organisations to target your outreach towards

For individuals:

  • Become a STEM ambassador
  • Volunteer to be the ‘Outreach Coordinator’ by subscribing to different organisations asking for STEM volunteers and forwarding the ones relevant to your company on to other employees
  • Become a mentor to someone at college/sixth form, university or a graduate
  • Create online content such as a blog post or video about what your job is like and how you got there


Why STEM outreach is a win-win effort

Throughout the year Springboard has supported and encouraged us in all our initiatives and we are very grateful for that.

What is holding you or your company back from supporting and doing more outreach work? Maybe you are prioritising project work and business activities. I believe STEM outreach should be highly valued as it is win-win. You will use your passion and experience to inspire young people, they will energise you to think creatively, act as role-models and we will all work towards developing young, passionate and skilled scientist and engineers. Finally, your efforts will also be crucial in establishing STEM as an innovative, diverse and inclusive industry.

So, what are you waiting for to inspire the next generation?

— Julia Whitehead