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Youth Equity + STEM (YESTEM): Project Blog



Archive for February, 2022

Reflections from the YESTEM project partner: Hanwell Zoo

By s.godec, on 24 February 2022

Ensuring conservation education reaches everyone

This post was written by Beau-Jensen McCubbin, Head of Birds and Conservation Education at Hanwell Zoo.

For the last ten years, I’ve had the good fortune to work with generous and progressive colleagues in a zoo where we believe that conservation education has huge benefits and is for everyone. Yet, all too often, I’ve seen educational provisions pigeonholed into ‘one size fits all’ offerings, rather than considering how best to engage those who have traditionally been excluded. Creating generic resources and activities marginalises many who already find themselves excluded by the mainstream.

When I first started working at Hanwell Zoo, the pioneering community work led by our Zoo Curator Jim Gregory was in its early, yet fruitful stages. I was supported to continue and extend this work, but as I became more involved with the conservation education sector, it became apparent that not everyone worked in the way we did. It was it clear to me that a large proportion of the sector nested in traditional, less inclusive programmes, although I was warmed to find that there were many individuals pushing for change, supporting and producing their own inclusive practices.

Beau-Jensen McCubbin and Jim Gregory, YESTEM project partners from Hanwell Zoo.

It was around this time that I got involved with the Youth Equity and STEM (YESTEM) project. Sure, I was there on my own merit to share my experience and expertise, but I did not anticipate getting much more out of the project than I could ever put in. To kick things off, I hadn’t even heard of the term ‘equity’ in the context of social justice, and in our first meeting I had to put my hand up and ask “Umm… what’s equity?”.

Discussing equitable practices with researchers and other informal STEM learning practitioners not only filled in the missing pieces in my own inclusive pedagogy (another word I learnt), but it helped me to conceptualise it. This project has afforded me the know-how to better evaluate and disseminate my work, keeping the equity focus front and centre. Furthermore, being more prepared to talk about equity in conservation education means that I can help others develop and deliver more meaningful encounters in spaces of informal science learning, as well as make more informed, equitable, decisions in my own work.

Girl and lemur in a zoo enclosure

Ethical interactions between young people and wildlife at Hanwell Zoo, London

Young people with binoculars

Young people from London on a learner lead bird-watching exploration.

The resources produced by the YESTEM project are invaluable to practitioners and will benefit millions of learners – I’m sure of that. The Equity Compass tool is something I use all the time in developing programmes with young people. The tool maps out clear paths for us to follow and highlights areas we can improve on. I also use it in the evaluation and countless other activities, such as social media posts, presentations, provisions within the zoo, and even things like what is stocked in the gift shop. As a member of the British and Irish Association for Zoos and Aquariums’ (BIAZA) Conservation Education Committee, I also share these ideas with other professionals in the zoo sector.

I didn’t anticipate how much I would gain from my 5-year journey with the YESTEM project, and my hope is that the results will reach and assist many other practitioners around the world. Being better equipped to reach my objectives means I’m better equipped to ensure my learners, all of them, can realise their potential.

For more details about how Hanwell Zoo have been extending equity and using the Equity Compass as part of partnering with the YESTEM project, see this short film.

Reflections from the YESTEM project partner: Stemettes

By s.godec, on 11 February 2022

Challenging STEM Status Quo

This post was written by Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE, Lucy Cox and Sarah Mehrali from Stemettes.

When Stemettes was approached about joining the Youth Equity and STEM (YESTEM) project, we jumped at the chance.  Although we knew that from the onset that youth equity had been at the heart of all our initiatives, we relished the opportunity to formalise and further develop our practices, work with teams to develop a tool to measure our success in the science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) space and to document our work as a resource for the partners who support our interventions.

Two women standing by the whiteboard with the Equity Compass.

Stemettes’ Anne-Marie and Lucy using the Equity Compass to reflect on their practice.

Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE created Stemettes in 2013 to ensure girls, young women, and non-binary young people between the ages of 5-25 know that technical fields are for them. She was joined by Programme Manager Lucy Cox as co-researchers on the YESTEM project. The Stemettes’ mission is to engage, inform and connect young people into STEAM  fields with our ‘Free, Fun, Food’ ethos. As of 2021, Stemettes has reached 55,000 young people across the UK, Ireland and parts of Europe.

Stemettes run more than 50 interventions each year – a mixture of intersectional cohort programmes (including mentoring and certification academies), impactful events and inspirational content shared across platforms. These interventions improve perceptions of STEM, raise awareness of options within STEM, grow the networks these young people have across STEM and improve their self and STEM confidence.

Two girls with a laptop.

Two girls working on a laptop during a Stemettes event.

The development of the Equity Compass as part of the YESTEM project has meant that organisations like ourselves in an informal STEM learning setting can now use the tool at every point of their planning to check that they are developing ideas and strategies in line with equitable practices that they have committed to adopting.  We pride ourselves on our ability to reach out to and connect with minority communities and the Equity Compass has allowed us to identify what we do well and what we can do better. 

For example, we are conscious that many of our programme participants may not have access to a laptop required for a virtual event and therefore build in the offer of a laptop to be posted out into our workflows. Additionally, we offer free industry recognised certifications in cybersecurity, Python coding and agile training courses in an attempt to redistribute access to resources that are often the reserve of sections of society with parents/networks in the know. We seek to broaden what counts as STEM, who can pursue a career in STEM, trying to challenge stereotypes and dominant ways of doing things that have long excluded many women and non-binary people from the field. We also practise what we preach in terms of diversity, inclusion and belonging and the make up of Team Stemette reflects our audiences. However, confidence about what we are getting right does not mean that we are always across our blind spots, so tools like the Equity Compass will act as a torch that shines a light on our oversights and enables efficient development toward equitable practice so that we can support our participants as best as we can.

Three women in a meeting.

YESTEM project meeting

The next steps for Stemettes lie in developing the reach and programmes we have across the UK’s regional landscape, extending the Stemette provision to parents, guardians and teachers (who the Stemettes call Influencers) and powerfully transitioning alumnae into industry powerhouses. This is already happening, but not fast enough. We are confident that the Equity Compass will assist us in meeting our organisational goals, ultimately leading to a more evidence-based approach to analysing our outcomes and considering how equitable they are. This research project has inspired us to begin even more work in this space – we look forward to the legacy of YESTEM!

For more details about how Stemettes have been challenging the status quo as part of partnering with the YESTEM project, see this short film.

For further YESTEM project tools and resources, see the project website.