Engaging young people in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)

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In this blog post, Dr Siobhan O’Connor, a Lecturer in Nursing Studies, describes how she works with local schools to deliver inspiring activities that would encourage young adults, particularly young women and girls, to study STEM subjects at university…

Despite a 21st century society that is driven by digital tools, the number of young girls and women studying Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) at university is still relatively low. Recent statistics show that in the United Kingdom, the percentage of women graduating from computer science was only 15%, and in engineering it was slightly lower at 14%. This can cause shortages in the workforce, reduce labour productivity and economic growth. So, when the opportunity arose to undertake training to learn how to engage and inspire young people about the world of STEM, I jumped at the chance to take part. On completing the STEM Ambassador programme at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester, I started to work with local schools and other partners to deliver exciting activities that would encourage young adults, particularly young women and girls, to study STEM subjects at university, and follow their dreams to have a fulfilling career in this area.

My favourite activity is to join a STEM “speed networking” event running at a nearby secondary school to meet as many young people as possible and chat to them about their interests and aspirations. Although time is limited, we usually cover a huge range of topics because students are curious about how they can apply science, technology, engineering and mathematics qualifications in the real world, and how their career could progress in different STEM fields. A recent event at Lornshill Academy in Alloa, Scotland, reminded me of the benefits of volunteering my time at a critical point in a student’s journey.  Many students were deciding what subjects to study for their Highers, which would influence the kind of degree they could study at university. Having a mixed background in both informatics and health, I was able to offer advice on different courses options at university, and possibly career paths in STEM, drawing on my own experiences of working in different sectors.

I have also done presentations and career talks on STEM because it is important that young girls and women have positive role models that they can learn from. As younger generations spend a lot of time on social media, making sure they can find and share information online about STEM careers and, in particular, profiles of women who have worked in these fields is important. Wikipedia is one excellent source of information on STEM because it is a large, online encyclopedia that is free to use. There is a initiative called “Women in Red” running worldwide where edit-a-thons are run in libraries, museums and other organisations to teach people how to create Wikipedia articles about women and ensure they are equally represented online.

Some colleagues and I are contributing to this initiative to ensure that young people can learn about science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and the key figures who have helped shape these fields (McAndrews et al, 2019). Inspiring the next generation is critical to ensure gender equality in STEM is reached, and young women can contribute their knowledge and expertise in these areas while building successful careers.

We are running a Wikipedia edit-a-thon at the Royal Society of Edinburgh on Wednesday, 5th June 2019 from 1 – 5pm, to create new articles on female scientists. If you would like to join us you can register online, and it is free to attend. Come and learn how to create Wikipedia biographies to help inspire the next generation of young people in STEM.


McAndrew, E., O’Connor, S., Thomas, S., & White, A. (2019). From Chinese spies to award winning geologists, we’re making women visible on Wikipedia. New Statesman. 

Siobhan O’Connor

Dr Siobhan O’Connor is a Lecturer in Nursing Studies, in the School of Health in Social Science. She is keen to support the learning experience of nursing students in academia and clinical practice through the use of technologies such as mobile applications, social media, podcasting, and virtual or augmented reality among others.

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