In February, two small groups of students from Carterton Community College visited the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) to complete challenges that helped them build teamwork and leadership skills, and highlighted opportunities for potential future careers in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). The students are supported by the Jon Egging Trust (JET), which works with young people who are under-confident or facing life challenges and are beginning to disengage at school.
RAL Space have partnered with JET to provide workshops for their Blue Skies programme, to help raise students’ confidence, resilience and aspirations. Each cohort follows the three-year syllabus to develop teamwork, leadership and employability skills for pupils in Year 8, 9 and 10, respectively.
Following the success of RAL Space’s online engagement programme
, these workshops presented an opportunity to trial our first on-site events for school students in two years. For these young people, the barriers to access STEM careers, including the means to participate in online events, can be significant. The benefits of in-person interactions are therefore substantial for their education and personal development.
Left: Students try on clean room suits. Right: Students create a model of the solar system. Credit: STFC RAL Space/Jon Egging Trust
Teamwork, leadership and employability
During the first workshop, the Blue Skies 1 group designed the tallest and cheapest possible structures to undergo vibration testing on a mini shaker, replicating the environmental testing at RAL Space. They then designed a new space mission and had to communicate well to assemble their spacecraft whilst wearing clean room suits, before pitching their mission for funding.
The following week, Blue Skies 2 students completed a Mission to Mars based on the Science and Engineering Careers Challenge
. Students took turns to be the leader and tell the RAL Space STEM Ambassadors what to do! They painted the solar system as astrophysicists, built a Mars lander as mechanical engineers, completed jigsaws of images from the Sentinel satellites
as data scientists, and programmed each other to navigate a maze and collect extra-terrestrial samples as software engineers.
Developing new skills
86% of students felt more aware of different careers in the space sector after taking part, and the average ratings for each workshop were 4.8 and 4.9 out of 5. One of the Year 9 girls wrote in her feedback form: “It was really fun but I wished I could stay for longer!”
Allie Hack, JET Area Director South, said: “Thank you and the whole RAL Space team who made the session such a success. From the interesting and inspiring visitor centre, to the well planned and supported activities led by your fabulous ambassadors and of course the amazing subject matter, the students could not fail to be inspired. Watching the students warm up and engage, enjoy themselves and crucially have the opportunity to develop leadership skills was a joy."
The RAL Space team look forward to inviting the students back in future for the next stages of the Blue Skies programme.
Running safe in-person events
To ensure everyone’s safety and wellbeing, the activities were rigorously planned jointly by RAL Space and JET’s Oxfordshire Youth Liaison Officer to incorporate key Covid-19 safety measures. The planning process and evaluation have been shared internally as an important step in assessing the feasibility of on-site public and school events. A careful, phased approach to host on-site events will continue through to autumn this year; events will continue to be held online in the plan for a future balanced programme that brings together the best aspects of in-person and virtual events