Friday, July 8, 2011

Building "A Real Passion for Science" - STEM Conference 2011

The communication and promotion of science is alive and well in Ireland ahead of next year’s Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF2012) in Dublin and the country’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) communicators have the strong backing of the new Irish government.

That’s the message that came from the recent Communicating STEM conference held in Cork and organised by Discover Science and Engineering and Engineers Ireland.

Ireland’s new Minister Research and Innovation, Sean Sherlock, visited the conference on Thursday last and welcomed the exchange of ideas going on from around Europe and expressed the view strongly that these ideas could be transposed to the Irish setting to compliment the strong record in STEM communication already in place.

“This government is very serious about the potential for projects like this”, Minister Sherlock announced. STEM outreach work was he said “vital to our economic interests”.

The Minister seemed particularly impressed, along with many of the delegates, by the JET-NET model used in The Netherlands. JET-NET is a partnership between Dutch companies and pre-college schools in the Netherlands which sees one-on-one collaboration between the school and an industrial partner with career days, debate competitions and lab trips all on the agenda.

The scale of the programme particularly impressed, with André van Aperen, coordinator of the scheme for Shell, outlining the 70 companies taking part in 2010, along with a total of 353 school s and more on a waiting list.

The theme of the conference was Success Through Synergy and a number of industrial partners were in attendance to outline their involvement and commitment to STEM outreach and their motivation for involvement. Chris Enright from Hewlett Packard Ireland emphasised the increasing speed of technological advancement and said that new STEM graduates were ‘fundamental’ to their business objectives.

Enright also made the point that the strong record of Irish branches of multinationals collaborating with national centres of excellence in research and education along with a close relationship with relevant governmental agencies makes Ireland stand out ahead of other locations. People were “blown away” when they visited Ireland and saw such close partnerships.

“A real passion for science” is what is needed in STEM graduates of the future, said Enright, not just knowledge of the curriculum.

There was much on display at the conference to inspire and motivate. Katherine Jensen outlined the work of Abbott in promoting science in Ireland and mentioned their Operation Discovery programme for 14-16 year olds where scientists from the company lead students in experiments related to Abbott’s work in the locality and also involves a day-long visit to the facility.

Before taking part in Operation Discovery, just 41% of participants thought that they would enjoy studying science. Afterwards, that figure had reached 80%. Encouraging also was that 73% of participants thought working in science would be fun after taking part in the programme.

With presentations by the Galway Education Centre and by the Cork Outreach Community, the nationwide picture was painted before David Fahy, Project Director for ESOF2012 in Dublin gave an intriguing presentation on the current state of planning for Europe’s largest general science conference.

ESOF2012 will take place from Wednesday 11th July to Sunday 15th July 2012 in Dublin, however the organisers are keen to make it both a nationwide and year-long event in terms of its scheduling and impact.

The event aims to showcase the latest advances in science and technology along with promoting a dialogue on the role of science in society. It also aims to provoke public interest, excitement and debate of scientific issues.

A public engagement programme will run throughout the year and the call for proposals has just recently closed. Judging by the enthusiasm, novel ideas and inspired thinking on display amongst Ireland’s STEM communicators, it is evident that ESOF2012 in Ireland will be a huge success.


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