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Yvonne Baker: "Birmingham, STEM Ambassadors and me"

Updated: Jan 21, 2021

SATNAV reports on the EPS Distinguished Lecture, March 2020

On March 11th 2020, over 30 years after graduating from the University of Birmingham with a degree in Chemical Engineering, Yvonne Baker re-entered the lecture theatre where she had spent many hours engaged (or not, on some occasions!) in her university education. Yvonne had a hugely successful career in manufacturing, in numerous sectors, before serendipitously accepting a role running what would eventually become the immensely successful STEM ambassadors programme.

With 33,000 STEM ambassadors having volunteered 1.8 million hours of their time so far to work with young people, schools, and colleges, they are having a significant impact on STEM teaching in the UK. True to the programme’s vision of ensuring students from all backgrounds are given the opportunities, skills, and knowledge to thrive in STEM-related career paths, over 81% of young people involved have said they were positively impacted by the activities organised by STEM ambassadors across the country. The authenticity and relatability of STEM ambassadors allows young people to see themselves as capable of achieving their goals in professions they may never have previously considered.

The evening lecture was brimming with interesting discussions about the role STEM is likely to play in global issues, and how it is more important than ever that STEM education is accessible to every young person, regardless of their background. Yvonne emphasised the importance of promoting creativity within STEM and how it is often incorrectly perceived that STEM subjects are not inherently creative. “We live in a multidisciplinary world,” Yvonne stated. We need a broad and balanced curriculum to match this. We also need the focus to shift from filling gaps and quotas to providing young people with the inspiration, information, and motivation to go into whatever career in which they can make the biggest impact.

The lessons Yvonne emphasised that she had learned throughout her career can be applied to anyone, at any stage of their life. As students who are preparing to move onto the next phase of our careers, this was refreshing to hear. She began with a quote from John Lennon: “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” “Life is unpredictable,” she said, “and you can only be sure it won’t go the way you plan.” Take every opportunity available to you and get involved in volunteering wherever possible; the benefits to your health, wellbeing, and career are numerous, not to mention the impacts on those you work with. Embrace failure, as rarely is it an end; more often, it is the beginning of a new venture. Finally, throughout all things life throws at you, keep perspective, as Yvonne quotes “give me the grace to accept the things that cannot be changed, the courage to change the things which should be changed, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

From Issue 20

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