Science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM) subjects underpin the world that we live in, and STEMM education is hugely important to industries and economies around the globe.
As a higher education institution singularly focused on health sciences, RCSI recognises the importance of fostering engagement with STEMM subjects in young people.
RCSI’s community engagement and access programme, REACH RCSI, is central to the RCSI Engage strategy. It connects the University with local community in Dublin city centre, working in partnership with link schools to widen access and participation for underrepresented groups and promote health awareness.
By focusing on integrated educational support, the programme aims to raise aspirations and empower local students throughout their educational journey.
A real impact
A key component is the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI)-funded Junior Researcher Programme, which enables secondary school students to gain first-hand experience of scientific research.
Funded by the SFI Discover Programme and culminating during Science Week 2022, the Junior Researcher Programme involved 70 first-year students from link DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) schools: CBS Westland Row and Presentation Secondary School, Warrenmount, and a team of volunteer research mentors from RCSI.
The budding young researchers took part in a series of interactive workshops, presentations and lab sessions both in school and at RCSI, and engaged digitally via a bespoke Moodle project site, to experience what it’s like to study at university, work in scientific research and build understanding of the real impact it has on society.
Promoting STEMM careers
The SFI Discover Programme creates opportunities for broader participation and engagement by the public with STEMM.
As part of that, the RCSI Engage Junior Researcher Programme aims to work in partnership with participating schools to support students to develop scientific literacy, prepare for Junior Certificate classroom-based assessment (CBA), and build interest in STEMM subjects in advance of senior cycle by providing insight into STEMM careers through positive dialogue with scientific role models.
Interactive laboratory sessions led by RCSI researchers and PhD scholar mentors focused on encouraging participants to develop interest in and enthusiasm for the STEMM subjects. As well as hearing from RCSI mentors about their journey from secondary school into research careers, the students formed small teams with assigned roles including project manager, data analyst and technician and took part in a hands-on group research project.
Each team chose their own research question, such as 'Does the sodium hypochlorite concentration in bleach have an effect on its ability to kill bacteria?', 'Why is glue sticky and why doesn’t glue stick to the container?' and 'Which is bouncier – a football or a tennis ball?'
With the support of RCSI research mentors and their teachers, the teams investigated their research questions and presented their findings at a mini symposium at the end of the programme, which was followed by an awards ceremony for all participants.
The Junior Researcher Programme strives to inspire the next generation of scientists to explore the wide variety of opportunities available to them, by demonstrating the link between their science textbooks and the real world of scientific research.
RCSI is committed to achieving a better and more sustainable future through the UN Sustainable Development Goals.