19th March 2024

Encouraging STEM Excellence, The STEM Courage Programme

In 2021, Dr Connie Wilson, Senior R&D Technologist with BAE Systems, MarLabs sector, developed an innovative mentoring programme, STEMCourage. It allows Arkwright engineering scholars to gain technical and soft skills around areas that will increase knowledge and understanding; assess their future career path, understand a range of technology domains; and enhance their skills for becoming a degree apprentice or attend university.

STEMCourage currently has 50 tasks stretching across engineering and technology domains such as space, electronics, mechanics, robotics, nanotechnology, and innovation. There are also tasks designed to improve a scholar’s self-awareness through tasks such as a 16 Personalities assessment where they reflect and discuss ways to develop areas they wish to explore; and a task to write a personal statement, which will be reviewed by experienced mentors who can provide feedback.

Covering a wide range of engineering disciplines and with 50 different tasks available, a number are mandatory, while the rest are optional. From the optional tasks, students select the tasks, which appeal to them. Mentors then discuss these with students to create a plan for them to complete as many as realistically possible within their time on the scheme.

Examples of mandatory tasks include the engineering journal, where by students develop reflective note-taking – a key skill useful for a future engineering career. Another mandatory task – women in STEM – encourages students to examine the role that women have made in engineering either in history or in the present day. This enables students to develop their research, creativity and problem-solving skills.

Exciting optional tasks including robotics, cyber, and nanotechnology are at the forefront of the engineering sphere. These technical and innovative activities enable students to learn about what is classed as a robot and be tasked to design one, investigate the importance of preventing cyber-attacks and to research and design a portable device that could be used to test a system, as well as conducting research into Nanotechnology and Nanotechnology materials.

There are many advantages to STEMCourage, for both the scholar and the mentor. For students, there is a chance to gain a diverse understanding of technology and concepts, which grow through the programme, many of which are well outside of the typical school curriculum. Students will also learn how to present complex technology to primary school students through the development of STEAM lessons, alongside having the opportunity to apply through their own school for CREST Awards. During the mentoring process, skills in engineering and technology can be discussed in more detail with their mentor and through the MentorNet Forums allowing students to pursue their interests in more depth.  The structure of the programme includes a number of elective units, giving students a sense of ownership and personalisation over their experiences.

For the mentor, the programme allows the development of mentoring skills, which will be essential to their own career development. The hours accumulated in mentoring can be utilised in the CPD for professional memberships and in the STEMLearning records allowing recognition in both cases. Mentors will also be able to add this experience to applications for Chartered Status as a part of the criteria required.  The structure of the programme enhances the mentor’s experience as it provokes conversation on topics of interest and streamlines the demand on the mentor’s time.  Mentors are encouraged to create new tasks on topics they are interested in, allowing them to share their own enthusiasms with scholars, ensuring the STEMCourage programme continues to expand and improve.

The STEMCourage Programme can be accessed through the MentorNet App, which provides a safe and supportive forum for the mentor-scholar relationship to develop effectively.  The Smallpeice Trust and the STEMCourage team ensure mentors are screened, paired appropriately with scholars, and supported throughout the programme.  MentorNet Forums enable users to connect, share knowledge and resolve queries. The STEMCourage resources include activities and assessment guidance and are available for mentors to download and use.

The scheme has proven to be very popular and currently there are more scholars than mentors available. If you would like to share your passion for engineering and developing future talent, please get in touch with The Smallpeice Trust to discuss becoming a mentor.

If you are, or know, a young person who is a budding future engineer, please find more information on becoming an Arkwright scholar, or mentor, and experiencing STEMCourage for yourself, please get in touch with The Smallpeice Trust.



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