Thursday 13th June saw over 200 students from 12 schools arrive at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form for the 11th Skirting Science event – a day of hands-on workshops to inspire girls about thinking positively about careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM).
Skirting Science, the initiative organised by Soroptimist International (SI) of Weston-super-Mare, aims to combat the inequality within the STEM industries by engaging girls early and opening their eyes to the huge opportunities these careers can provide. The UK still has the lowest proportion of women engineers in Europe.
“There is still a gender gap in science and we are trying to change that,” said Ruth Thomas, former President of SI Weston-super-Mare and instigator of Skirting Science. “We are proud to have started this event 10 years ago, and hope to inspire girls to take up science by showing them how varied and interesting their lives could be in STEM careers.”
Churchill Academy & Sixth Form’s Headteacher, Chris Hildrew provided the welcome, explaining that role models are incredibly powerful in helping us realise what we can be. “You do have permission and the right to work in STEM. This inequality needs to be addressed.” Reflecting on the school’s role he added “we are committed to promoting gender equality at Churchill, and we were thrilled to welcome the Soroptimists back for another Skirting Science event, this year in our brand new Science and Technology facilities. For us, Skirting Science provides those key role models, experiences and opportunities to students so that they can see what possible futures lie ahead of them. This event accomplished that, and more!”
Jess Cross, guest speaker and PhD student at Bristol University, then spoke about her journey into research and her work on motor proteins showing the girls how they could follow in her footsteps.
Other guests at the event included the High Sheriff of Somerset, two deputy Lords Lieutenant of Somerset and national officials from Soroptimist International all keen to see the 15 workshops in action. These included scientists from industry and academia covering a wide range of topics showing how STEM subjects are finding solutions to many current issues. Girls worked on building robots that could respond to variety of challenges from physical to artistic, the examination of blood in a medical laboratory or a crime scene, and extraction of the girls’ own DNA. Also the effect of climate change on seaweed growth, finding solutions to our water supply and protecting our environment. They looked at designing prosthetics and how radiography can be used to identify malignant tumours.
The girls commented ‘I really liked all the different experiences that you don’t get at school and how broad science actually is.’ ‘ Seeing what different things you can do with science, careers I never knew about.’ ‘Learning new things, working as a team and meeting people who are experts in their field and have real experience.’ Teachers were equally positive noting that ‘Seeing more women involved in STEM careers has motivated the girls to research careers in science. And that ‘it has opened their eyes to the range of careers available in the vast field of science and engineering. It was useful to hear about the career paths of different scientists, their routes to university and the reasons they enjoyed their field.’
Anne Graham, joint founder of Skirting Science said ‘We are so proud to have had an impact on over 2500 girls since starting Skirting Science. We are now seeing some of our past participants entering STEM careers and we are delighted by the recognition that our work is receiving. Since starting Skirting Science the number of women attaining STEM vocational qualifications has increased from 8% to 24% but there is still a long way to go”.
The photograph shows (L-R back row) the Mayoress and Mayor of Hildesheim. The Mayoress and Mayor of Weston-super-Mare, Johnnie Halliday -the High Sheriff of Somerset, Susan Long, Ruth Thomas, Jane Sedgman – Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Somerset, Melanie David, Anne Graham.
In front of them are three Year 10 girls who were acting as student ambassadors for the visiting guests and girls.