The STEM Ambassador programme is a free resource offering industry expertise and support to schools across the country to help them engage their students in STEM study. Gill Collinson explains how it works and how you can get involved

STEM Ambassadors are volunteers, from 17 to 70-years-old, representing a vast range of STEM-related jobs and disciplines across the UK. They bring a fresh and inspiring perspective to STEM lessons and careers information, and complement excellent teaching.

The 30,000 STEM Ambassadors, from more than 2,500 employers, include apprentices, zoologists, set designers, climate change scientists, engineers, farmers, designers, geologists, nuclear physicists, architects, pharmacists and energy analysts to name but a few.
STEM Ambassadors help bring STEM concepts to life, adding context and cutting edge applications to students’ current understanding.

They challenge young people to solve the real problems that STEM-based businesses face and aim to inspire teachers and others with expert advice. They can provide innovative contexts for experiments and investigations and sometimes even bring along specialist equipment for young people to experience.

A new evaluation report analysing the role of STEM Ambassadors (STEM Ambassadors: Making an impact, November 2016) has demonstrated the significant impact they have on both the young people they work with and their teachers.

STEM Ambassadors are a free resource that is available nationwide and the report includes some excellent examples of best practice.

The independent evaluation shows that STEM Ambassadors can inspire young people to get more interested and involved in STEM subjects.

As a result of working with the ambassadors, more than eight in 10 teachers reported that their students’ awareness of the importance of STEM had increased, as had their knowledge and understanding – and the students were now more engaged in STEM subjects.

STEM Ambassadors play a vital role in helping young people to understand why STEM subjects are important, and how widely they can be applied in the world of work. More than nine in 10 young people reported this as one of the ways they had benefited from STEM Ambassador support.

STEM Ambassadors are often positive role-models for young people too: female STEM Ambassadors can have a particularly positive impact on girls, showing them how important it is for young women to progress into STEM-related work.

In some areas, teachers report that STEM Ambassadors change young people’s mindsets about the world of work, as they may not have had much contact with people who are passionate about their jobs.

As one assistant head from Birmingham put it: “They saw that the STEM Ambassadors loved their work – an alien concept to many, as most of our children are third generation unemployed.”

Young people’s perceptions of their own abilities, and their own suitability relating to a possible career in STEM are also challenged by the STEM Ambassadors. They provide informal opportunities for young people to talk, ask questions and explore ideas. As a result, young people find themselves better able to engage in more informed career-related decision-making.

Another benefit, highlighted by the report, is the role STEM Ambassadors can play in enhancing the quality of teaching by bringing learning from business and industry into the classroom, enriching teaching and learning with current and cutting-edge STEM contexts.
Three quarters of teachers surveyed reported that their confidence in teaching STEM subjects was increased as a result of the input from the ambassadors.

Having a STEM Ambassador in the classroom who is able to use industry-specific technical language fluently, can answer challenging questions from students, and complement the content teachers deliver is empowering and enhances the quality of the STEM education young people receive.

Teachers find that their STEM subject knowledge, particularly of cutting-edge developments, is boosted by the input from STEM Ambassadors.

The evaluation shows that careers information, advice and guidance is also improved. Teachers report that they have significantly improved liaison with local STEM businesses, helping to increase their understanding of STEM business and industry and helping them to articulate the STEM career options open to young people and the skills required for such work.

Teachers also reported that their motivation to teach STEM subjects is boosted thanks to the support provided by the ambassadors. They benefit from fresh input to their classroom, and report that their passion for their subject is reinvigorated as a result.

Anna Travis, science teacher, Manchester Creative Studio

I was new to teaching when I joined Manchester Creative Studio and one of the first things I did was to go to a STEM Networking Live event to look for local support for science teachers. I was put in touch with a local STEM Ambassador – Marcin Poblocki – and he has been brilliant!

We have really developed the way science is taught here at the Studio through our work with STEM Ambassadors, and we’re now using a project-based learning approach elsewhere in the school too.

This year, Marcin and I designed a cross-curricular project looking at the National Grid, which would give students opportunities in science, art and design, as well as exposure to careers opportunities in STEM industries.

The students made their own transformers, and then went on to build pylons in their art lessons – combining to make a working model of the National Grid.

A group of 15 students then went on to deliver training to 30 year 6 pupils from a local primary school, teaching them all about what they had learned about the National Grid.

We also had a range of STEM Ambassadors come into school to talk to the students about careers in the power industry, and the children were so engaged, they wanted to know what they needed to do to get those kind of jobs. It really gave them ambition and got them more interested in science.

Anthony Vaughan-Evans, director of STEM, Pakefield High School, Suffolk

Getting young people to see the mathematics that I teach them in action is at the heart of my approach to working with STEM Ambassadors.

I work with STEM Ambassadors by visiting their business to see how mathematics is being used and to find examples of the concepts that my students will be learning in their lessons.

Then, working with their organisation, I develop a challenge for my students.

Young people get to visit the site and see the problem happening for real – contextualising our learning.

They interrogate the STEM Ambassadors about their work, and also about how they use mathematics in their work, before going back to school to work on the challenge.

For example, I’ve used Perenco to help my teaching of volume. Perenco has massive pipelines out to its oil rigs in the North Sea, which over time fill with water. Those pipes need to be emptied out, and they do this by sending a sphere which is the same diameter as the pipe down each pipeline to flush out the water.

So, I set my students the challenge to figure out the volume and the size of the spheres they would need to do this job.

Once back at school, the students work on their problem, and STEM Ambassadors come in to offer help. When they have come to a solution, the students present their ideas, explaining why and how they have come to that conclusion. STEM Ambassadors judge their ideas, and award prizes to those who have used the best approach to solve the problem.

Using this experience, I have now developed a scheme of work to contextualise mathematics. I have found that the students respond well: they get to do lots more hands-on work.

Now, they determine how they solve a particular problem themselves rather than being explicitly told which mathematics to use, their awareness of relevant careers is hugely improved, and they are better engaged in their learning.

That improved engagement leads to better motivated learners, better attainment, and more students wanting to pursue a career in a mathematics-related field.

  • Gill Collinson is head of centre at the National STEM Learning Network.

Further information