Browsing for a future: St Joseph’s first STEM fair gets aspirational!

Issued: Thu, 09 Jul 2015 12:14:00 BST

It’s hard not to get carried away by the enthusiasm shown by staff at St Joseph’s Academy in Kilmarnock; especially given their eagerness to establish long lasting and worthwhile relationships with local commerce. Whether this is aided by industries desire to ensure a strong future workforce, or a schools responsibility to its students to give them solid local options, is really quite irrelevant when you consider the far reaching and long lasting benefits to young people.

Aiming to capitalise on this new wave of interest, Jonathon Szumlakowski (Technical Teacher and Principal Teacher of STEM) and David Ritson (Principal Teacher of Technical) resolved to organise a STEM fair for their S3 pupils. Sourcing individuals and STEM Ambassadors from industry and business around Kilmarnock what this event hoped to achieve was to create a heightened awareness of the options available to young people once they leave higher education.

Among the companies in the schools back yard who represent different areas of STEM are UTC Aerospace Systems, Mint Accountancy, GE Caledonian Ltd and EDF Energy with construction and sustainability also represented by Morrison Construction, Mitie and Hub South West. The bulk of the speakers provided by these companies were STEM Ambassadors in the West of Scotland with their attendance facilitated by Science Connects.

St Joseph’s takes seriously its responsibility to encourage children from the full range of social backgrounds represented within the school.  With an increased awareness of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths deemed to be an important part of that, it’s something which David Ritson is gladly seeing come to fruition:

“…this year we have come on leaps and bounds. We have successfully brought departments together to work on common themes and goals. It’s an organic process. Working with [local] companies is invaluable to us and something we would really hope to develop as we progress.”

For this particular STEM fair each organisation sets up stall and presents, chats and responds to questions as pupils move around each stand in groups.

Jim Johnstone from Morrison Construction was keen to provide pupils with a “better understanding” of what his company really does. Part of Jim’s job now entails engaging with schools - which wasn’t a big part of the industry in previous years. He is constantly battling against the common misconception that the industry is merely jobs for builders:

“Many don’t see construction as a credible career path due to this perception. There are many different facets to the industry such as the increasing number of environmental projects we’re involved in. People complain about skills shortages, but what are they doing about it? Morrison Construction has sent me here today to do something about it.  If you inspire one person then it’s all been worth it.”

Likewise, Jonathon and David are keen to inspire their pupils and are combating long held attitudes associated with gender and subject choice. As Jonathon explains:

“There is a big push here to get more girls into technical and we seem to finally be seeing attitudes changing. St Joseph’s has a female technical teacher which opens up the pupils to think differently about what they might have been told by others. We really want to break the mould here with transferable skills for later life being our focus.”

Both also consider the future of their role to include forging close links with local industry which is where STEM Ambassadors and volunteers from local companies come in. Creating a wider knowledge of what’s available in the area ensures that young school leavers don’t feel they are walking into an abyss. Training in real life job skills is also a consideration as Lois Hamilton from Mint Accounting observed, suggesting that:

“…encouraging familiarity with business software could be beneficial so that when it comes to beginning employment young people are partly trained and don’t feel like they are being thrown in at the deep end.”

Whatever the future holds, what’s most heartening is how committed individuals and business’s seem to be in enriching the employment potential of kids and young adults within the Ayrshire region. Yet, better still is the enlightened attitude shown by St Joseph’s in throwing open its doors to industry to shine a light on what was previously considered a daunting life change for many young people.

If you are considering holding a STEM fair in your school then contact Science Connects for advice and assistance at or 0141 330 6396

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