Mark Harris - STEM Engagement Coordinator - Royal Navy

Issued: Thu, 30 Apr 2020 00:00:00 BST

Why did you decide to become a STEM Ambassador?

I started engaging with young people in 2016 when my wife worked at a local primary school. I ran a few after-school photography sessions and got a real buzz from seeing the young people take basic skills and use their imagination to get some pretty impressive results.

I left the Royal Navy in 2011 after 23 years as a submariner. I went on to work with Babcock Marine and then found a brilliant job working with a Naval Charity. This gave me a good understanding of the devolved government and the specifics around the Scottish Education System.

When the opportunity arose to re-join the Royal Navy as a STEM Coordinator, I just had to give it my best shot. I now have the enviable job of coordinating the Royal Navy’s STEM engagement activity in Scotland & Northern Ireland.


Which area of STEM are you most passionate about?

I get a real buzz seeing young people achieving something, especially when they may not be the most academic but have great hands on skills.

We have spent a lot of time with primary schools over the last 12 months and it is inspiring to see that it doesn’t matter who you are, everyone wants to have a go, and everyone is happy to see their friends be successful.


What is your favourite thing about being a STEM Ambassador?

Showing everyone that you don’t need to be a genius to get involved in STEM. It takes different types of skills from mathematical design to hands on production. This applies to the young people we engage with and to those who do the engagement.

The RN STEM team in Scotland is very small, (only 2 permanent staff) and we rely on enthusiastic volunteers and internal STEM Ambassadors to deliver. I have seen our volunteers grow in confidence and everyone has said that they enjoyed the experience, despite the sore feet and lost voices.

In 12 months, we have supported over 70 events, individually engaged with over 3000 pupils in schools. We have had a blast and learned a lot along the way.


Describe your favourite or most memorable activity so far:

Two very different memories spring to mind:

There was a young girl at one primary who rarely engaged in main stream schooling. One of our team spent 20 minutes with her having a conversation and coding a Sphero Orb and it really seemed to make a connection. The teacher pointed this out as the biggest achievement of the day.

At Portrush Airshow we saw a lot of families coming past the stand. One visit saw a 4-year-old and his 70-year-old Grandmother both playing with the Sphero Bolts in drive mode. Neither had ever used this sort of thing before and were discovering something new together.


What STEM Ambassador activities do you have planned for the future?

Given COVID 19 and what is going on our plans are is a little uncertain, but we are continuing to plan for the finals of the Subs in Schools Pilot competition. This has seen 15 secondary schools across the central belt of Scotland build and modify an Underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV). The final will see them compete in several pool challenges as well as producing a journal and giving a presentation on their design/build process. This is our team’s key driver, but we will also continue to support individual schools and bigger events such as STEM Futures, World Skills and Big Bang.

What advice would you give to new STEM Ambassadors?

Get involved, see what is already going on and being delivered by attending a STEM event such as those hosted by DYW or Smart STEM. You will see the sort of activities create excitement and grab the young people’s attention and then see how you could help.

Collaboration is great as we are all greater than the sum of our parts.