Project: Exeter STEM beyond boundaries

This is an introductory blog by Dr Houry Melkonian about the new project: Exeter STEM beyond boundaries, which we launched at the College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences (CEMPS) of the University of Exeter, led by her and supported by the College Associate Dean of Education Prof. Nicola King


This is the second part of the Diversity and Inclusivity project which I lead at the University – to learn more about the first part of the project, please take a look at the Education Incubator blog. The project Exeter STEM beyond boundaries aims to encourage inclusivity in STEM education by promoting an academic culture that fosters social responsibility and public engagement through monthly ‘STEM Days’ meetings with schools and colleges. We work closely with the CEMPS Widening Participation and the University Outreach Activities teams to approach our target audience at various schools and colleges nationwide. The project employed six current female students from CEMPS (two physicists, a natural scientist, a geologist, a civil engineer, and a data scientist) as interns for the period between March 2021 – July 2021, whose enthusiasm is of a great value for the delivery of its success (an introduction to the Summer 2021 project team will be published in a subsequent blog). This role attracted the attention of our undergraduate and postgraduate female students at CEMPS and we received 23 exceptionally excellent applications reflecting on their aspirations to support and inspire the young generation. Selecting applicants to recruit was difficult, and I would like to use this platform to acknowledge their insightful consideration to apply for this post.

STEM literacy is one of the important aspects of education, however some students may find mathematics and/or sciences more difficult than other subjects. To overcome these challenges, it is crucial to identify the causes of these phenomena, and to understand that early interventions could help reduce their impact. Female students at school, particularly between the ages of 6 – 11 form negative emotions about their abilities in understanding and performing mathematical skills in STEM subjects. This is usually influenced by stereotypes about gender disparities as well as by false assumptions, that mathematics or sciences is not for everyone, and that someone should posses the natural talent to succeed in STEM. Many parents in the society try to prevent the development of these stereotypes in children, but others struggle or do not have the resources or confidence to combat gender and intellect stereotypes.

This project innovatively offers genuine engagement opportunities between the University of Exeter and the society. Its primary aim is to encourage and introduce simple interventions that schools, colleges and even parents could use to empower the new generation, and in particular female candidates to consider and pursue their dream goals in STEM education. On the other hand, It is an ideal opportunity for Exeter female students (those who are studying for a degree programme in Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics) to act as role models, providing guidance and support to those who are at the planning stage for higher education studies. They will also become inspirations to the young girls at schools whose desire to study maths and science might be challenged by imposter syndrome and other psychological phenomena.

We hope that Exeter STEM beyond boundaries will become a platform that will inspire female students to aim boundlessly high, and to grow stronger and wiser in the face of challenges. 

The two parties that are involved in this project are: Group A: Undergraduate and Postgraduate female students from CEMPS; Group B: Society (Schools & Colleges) in UK.

Objectives of the project: The primary goal of this project is to pilot a new scheme in the College of EMPS at Exeter which encourages collaboration between our students (Group A) and the society (Group B) in the form of monthly ‘STEM Days’. Schools and Colleges in the country, particularly those in Devon and Cornwall, will be invited to sign up for these monthly meetings. Meetings will also serve as support-guide sessions for those secondary school females who are planning for Further/Higher Education in science and mathematics.

The meetings will involve:

  • Activities to help students, in particular young females, adapt a growth mindset which is key to enhance their performance and resilience in developing different strategies and learning skills.
  • Activities and quizzes covering different interdisciplinary topics to present how maths and sciences constitute major parts of our daily lives (from counting the stairs in the residence to the understanding of the biology of our bodies).
  • Examples and short biographical documentaries of stories of women who have succeeded in STEM despite the challenges. This will enrich the students’ imagination and will give them a sense of belonging to the STEM community.
  • Inviting (final year) UG or PG female students who are studying for a degree programme at CEMPS, to talk about their own experiences in pursuing their dreams and to share some invaluable insights and tips that had helped them in their academic journey.

We hope that Exeter STEM beyond boundaries will become a platform that will inspire female students to aim boundlessly high, and to grow stronger and wiser in the face of challenges. Our first ‘STEM Days’ meeting is scheduled for the 24-th of May 2021 with Exeter College and we are working collaboratively with the university to encourage other schools and colleges to register for our upcoming sessions.