Strathclyder Antonia McGlinchey, became the first person in her family to go to university after she was inspired by a flagship project to encourage greater participation with STEM subjects.
While still in primary seven, she enrolled in the University’s flagship Vertically Integrated Projects for Sustainable Development (VIP4SD) programme.
The Education and Public Engagement programme encourages children from diverse backgrounds to develop an interest in STEM subjects. The project also gives students from the School of Education the opportunity to teach secondary school children about science in creative ways.
Through VIP4SD, students work in multidisciplinary research teams with academic staff on projects which address the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). And as well as having a significant positive impact on the learning experience of students, people in the communities they work with have also benefitted.
The 17-year-old got involved with the project, led by Education Senior Teaching Fellow Robert Collins, while still a pupil at Saint Anne’s Primary School in Glasgow’s East End, and then every year throughout high school.
Her experience influenced her decision to pursue science further in education - and possibly as a career. This September the teenager joined Strathclyde as an undergraduate student.
Antonia says of first learning about the programme as a schoolgirl: “I remember vividly just throwing my hand in the air and begging my teacher, Mrs Wylie, to let me be part of it as I’d always wanted to work with science and I was very enthusiastic about it”.
Antonia had been interested in science from a young age and said that the enthusiasm and support of the student facilitators, as well as the clear enjoyment they got from teaching, allowed her to view science as something she could pursue. She has since encouraged other pupils to participate.
Working on the VIP4SD project directly influenced her decision to study Forensic and Analytical Chemistry and she said: “Hearing the students’ stories when visiting the University showed me that it was where I wanted to be. I’m the first person in my family to go to University so I never knew much about it, and having that experience [through VIP4SD] just made things kind of click, as I knew that was going to be the beginning of me doing what I want to do, and I couldn’t wait.”
Katie Wylie, a teacher at Saint Anne’s who has facilitated the VIP4SD project at the school, said inspiring young people to become involved in science, challenging notions of what a ‘scientist’ is, and creating partnerships with Strathclyde to support pupils’ learning are the key benefits.
She said: “Participation is highly beneficial for our young people and our future teachers. Our children take inspiration from their VIP experience which triggers a love for science which they then relate to future possibilities in the workplace. It is a must do for any school.
“Working alongside Robert and his team has given our children many memorable experiences that would not have happened without VIP.”
Robert, who has worked closely with Saint Anne’s and other schools in the area for several years, said: “As someone who has spent the vast part of their career researching, publishing and teaching in the field of STEM Education, I have found the VIP creates genuine engagement with these subjects and is the most convincing approach to the study of STEM Education with young learners I have ever witnessed.”
Antonia’s own experience has also increased her confidence, particularly in public speaking. When asked what advice she would give a school pupil who wasn’t sure if science was for them, she said: “Give it a go anyway. I think school is your time to do a mix of things and figure out what’s for you and take any opportunity given to you. When VIP came to my school [other kids] were saying ‘why do you want to do that? It’s going to be rubbish,’ but once they got the chance to take part they would come back and tell me how much they enjoyed it.
“On finishing school, you might be confused about where you want to go in life but there are so many options. You don’t need to go to university straight away. You can have gap years or go to college and then university, and you can change your course too. There are so many outcomes and just because you are unsure at the start doesn’t mean you always will be.”
Interested in getting involved with VIP, or finding out how you could launch your own project? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org