“STEM: Branching Out” Project continues to grow as it turns Five

Dr Catherine Jewell & Dr James Stones | January 2021

January 2021 marks the fifth anniversary of the launch of Beck Greener’s “STEM: Branching Out” project, and in honour of the occasion, this seems a timely moment to review the project’s growth and impact.

The STEM: Branching Out project has always been rooted in the aim of inspiring young people from diverse backgrounds within London to engage with the STEM (science, technology, engineering & maths) subjects at school and to enter STEM careers.

In January 2016, we launched Stage 1, introducing a day’s paid leave for voluntary work, and joining the STEM Ambassadors programme run by the charity STEM Learning UK.  The goal of this programme is still to provide enrichment opportunities to inspire young people to engage more with and consider careers involving STEM. The role of the STEM Ambassador is to help teachers and other educators achieve this goal, for example by mentoring students and participating in STEM clubs and careers events.  

Participation in this programme remains the cornerstone of our “STEM: Branching Out” project, and we now have fourteen STEM Ambassadors in our ranks.  An early, and crucial, innovation was the development of our "Spot-The-Invention" workshop in which students examine old and new versions of gadgets to identify improvements.  This is still at the heart of our project, used in external and internal events alike.  

Our early efforts were rewarded with a short-listing for the 2016 National STEM Inspiration Awards in the category “Most Dedicated Employer”, which recognises those STEM sector employers who are not ordinarily involved in inspiring young people in STEM, but which have supported their employee(s) to become a STEM Ambassador and then to engage with their local schools.  A runners-up place in the Heart of the City Award for Best New Community Programme, in the Lord Mayor’s City of London Dragon Awards followed, in 2017.  This annual Award recognises companies that have implemented a strategic approach to community engagement for the first time in the last 3 years.

In 2018 we worked increasingly closely with STEM Learning UK, assisting them in their re-launch of the London Big Bang Fairs.  James Stones, our partner responsible for CSR, took the lead in this, speaking at the Big Bang Fair re-launch events, both for schools and commercial partners.  

Under the umbrella of STEM: Branching Out, we have also hosted two IT students on industrial placement, providing them with full-time paid work-experience as part of their degree course.  We have also taken on three Apprentices in partnership with LDN Apprenticeships, the most recent of whom has been a wonderful addition to our IT team.

We were delighted when the impact of the STEM: Branching Out project was recognised in 2018, not only with the Heart of the City Award in the Lord Mayor’s Dragon Awards, but also with the STEM Employer Award (Small and Medium Enterprises) in the STEM Inspiration Awards.  At the Awards ceremony the organisers commented that:

“Beck Greener is an outstanding example of how to provide support for young people in STEM, working with stakeholders to support young people more effectively.”

Impact data collected for the Dragon Award showed that the project was achieving its primary aims of: 

(i)    raising STEM awareness: 
       -    54% of students surveyed said beforehand that they knew what STEM skills are, compared to 87% who said afterwards that they had learned new things;

(ii)   increasing student numbers interested studying STEM: 
       -    53%/35% of male/female students surveyed said after our workshops that they would now consider studying STEM A-level/degree 
       -    80%/35% increase in male/female student numbers (29%/26%) who would previously have considered a STEM career;

(iii)   increasing student numbers interested in STEM careers: 
        -   90% increase in total number of students who would consider STEM career (30% to 57%); 
        -   100%/100% increase in male/female student numbers who would consider STEM career (29%/26% to 58%/52%).

These figures are based on surveys conducted in collaboration with STEM Learning UK in early 2018.

Winning these Awards helped us to move the project on to its next stage in 2019, engaging with organisations such as Inspire! and Camden STEAM to run Insight Days at the Beck Greener offices for local sixth form students to learn about IP careers and get a taste of what is involved.  We were also invited to speak at the Women in Stem conference in May 2019 about how the project came about and its progress. 

2020 did not quite go to plan, as we were forced to cancel the events we had arranged for the year, due to Covid.  Nonetheless, we have welcomed five new STEM Ambassadors into our team and have taken part in a number of online activities providing students with greater insight into IP Careers.  In addition, our project lead, Catherine Jewell, gave a webinar for the IP Inclusive “Careers in Ideas” week using the STEM: Branching Out project as a case study on how to set up a Community project from scratch.

From small beginnings, we have expanded the project to include pro bono assistance for school-aged students, supporting external events (for example judging at Big Bang Fairs), hosting enhanced work experience placements and an annual insight day, both now regularly held at our London offices, as well as developing broader volunteering opportunities in collaboration with Camden Giving, and taking on apprenticeships working with LDN Apprenticeships.  We have built strong working relationships with STEM Learning UK and with Camden STEAM and have also made connections with organisations such as Generating Genius, the SThree Foundation, and Engineering UK.  

By the end of 2020, the project had contributed to reaching 3112 beneficiaries in the UK (2712 in London) and a collective total of 320 hours volunteering.

Happy Birthday, STEM: Branching Out!  Let’s see what the next five years will bring…