Lecturer (Mechanical) - MidKent College Training Services (MKCTS) at the Royal School of Military Engineering, Chatham
Why did you become an Ambassador?
It sounds a bit romantic, and potentially a little self-serving, but I became a STEM Ambassador to put something back. I served in the Corps of Royal Engineers from the age of 16, and I didn’t realise until I left the Army how little I knew of our young people and the challenges that they were facing in preparing for their future careers. I have friends and colleagues in education, and they thought that I’d be good at it, so I spoke to the co-ordinators at Canterbury and took it from there. Hopefully I can help teachers to create a spark in a young mind that encourages them to pursue a STEM-oriented career.
How much time do you commit to Ambassador Activities?
It varies, according to the Ambassador requests in the area and whether it fits with my expertise. Some months it can be as little as a couple of hours in total, and some months much more. I think that the most important thing to realise is that you can commit as little or as much as suits you, as the minimum commitment is quite low. The second most important thing is that it is never, ever wasted time. The young people and the hosting teachers are always grateful for the time I’ll commit and I always leave feeling that I’ve added value to their activities.
What activities have you been involved in?
I’ve attended some great events at schools and colleges. I’ve discussed projects with students to advise them on problems that they may encounter, and I’ve attended workshops as a visiting subject-matter expert to assist teachers. On the back of the STEM Ambassador scheme, I also attended the Bloodhound SSC STEM Ambassador programme, which inspires young people in the STEM skills needed for a 1000-mph car; truly inspirational.
My most significant activity is my current involvement with the IET and Kent and Medway STEM’s radio project. As a result of a grant from the IET, I designed a radio that young people would find challenging and rewarding to build, whilst learning about electrical circuitry and the underpinning science. This is being used in schools and colleges in Kent and Medway, and in regional STEM competitions.
There is always a healthy selection of activities available in the Ambassador Newsletter updates which are sent out by email. If an Ambassador has close links to one institution, they can design an activity and concentrate on that, or alternatively they can float around various schools and join in activities that somebody else has designed. Aside from the radio project, that’s what I tend to do.
The team at Canterbury are always supportive and they also have a lot of ideas and stores if I want to design my own activities, so there’s a huge choice available. Personally, I have a busy job and other commitments so it isn’t always easy but I’d like to attend and design many more activities. Most Ambassadors that I’ve met feel the same.
What do you feel were the positive outcomes for the pupils?
Firstly, the pupils see a fresh face, which is important for them and for their teachers. Secondly, pupils often don’t realise how much they have been learning from the activities! I’m no psychologist, but I think that because Ambassadors are not teachers, and there isn’t an assessment feeling to the activities, they seem more like a real-life or fun thing to do, even though it is often the same as the teacher has covered.
The pupils also get something from the teacher being able to change roles, in a more subtle way. I’ve worked with a number of teachers who, during activities, have had the opportunity to see a different side to certain pupils, which can be an incredibly positive thing for everyone.
The main thing to remember is that there has to be an element of learning. In addition to the knowledge and skills being covered in the activities, pupils often begin to ask questions about working life. This often gives me the opportunity to make the learning entirely relevant to a vocational setting, which teachers appreciate.
It is important to remember that you will leave the pupils, and the teachers have to stay and resume their role. In my experience the most successful outcome for the pupils is when you team-teach with their regular teachers, maintaining mutual respect and credibility, supplementing classroom work whilst recognising that teachers are great people with a noble profession. After all, I am an invited guest in their classroom.
What do you feel were the positive outcomes for yourself?
I’ve developed my ability to interact with people outside my normal professional and personal circle, which is a vital skill. If we want to entice young people into STEM careers then we have to understand them, and the Ambassador scheme helps a lot. I’ve also met an incredible amount of good people; co-ordinators, other Ambassadors and teachers, not to mention pupils that I’ve worked with.
Do you have any tips for future STEM Ambassadors?
Don’t re-invent the wheel, ask for advice, don’t take on too much, but act now.
Firstly there are many activities and resources already available; they just need somebody with the capacity and the will to deliver them. The co-ordinators and teachers have great ideas already, so I found it best at first to use something existing and find my feet. This allowed me to focus on how to engage with young people rather than concerning myself on whether my ideas would work. When I had those underpinning skills, I tried new things, but always with the sanction of the teachers!
Secondly, co-ordinators and teachers can help me. Even things like the ability in motor skills and manual dexterity that young people have can be answered by the STEM co-ordinators, and if they don’t know they’ll find out for me. If I am developing a truly new activity, then they will have experience of something similar, and they’ll know what worked and what didn’t. I found it invaluable to remember that teachers are experts – they are a mine of information when it comes to communication techniques, pace of delivery, generational culture and so on, in addition to their pupils’ existing knowledge.
Thirdly, I don’t think it does anybody any favours to take on too much. I wouldn’t dare speak for them, but I think the teachers and co-ordinators would rather have somebody reliable, friendly and engaging than somebody who is irritable and has to let them down at the last minute. One or two high-quality activities must be better for young people than many more which are unclear, rushed and confusing to the people we are trying to inspire!
My last tip is to stop deliberating and get your name down for something immediately. Go on a straightforward activity where there are a few Ambassadors and teachers so it’s more of a team event, find your feet and then take it from there. Good luck!
"I served in the Corps of Royal Engineers from the age of 16, and I didn’t realise until I left the Army how little I knew of our young people and the challenges that they were facing in preparing for their future careers."