Volunteer profile: Harriet

Running a STEM club

I'm Harriet...

I am on a 12-month Year in Industry placement with the Environment and Sustainable Development team in Safety, Technical and Engineering (STE). My role involves giving ad hoc support to the sustainability agenda at Network Rail; in particular, I have been supporting the development of a project that will deliver national biodiversity data so the business can improve environmental risk identification and mitigation processes when planning projects and maintenance works.

As someone who is undertaking a Climate Change degree, and has experienced first-hand both the academic and commercial applications of traditional Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects, I wanted to use my volunteer leave to engage and inspire primary school children through a variety of STEM-related challenges.

What did I do?

I used four of my five volunteer leave days over four months to run a STEM club at a local primary school. Initially I spoke to the children about my university degree and my placement at Network Rail to explain my motivations for pursuing a career in sustainability. We then had a group discussion on the environmental and social risks that Network Rail faces and I asked the children to consider how they would solve these challenges using STEM solutions. The children were very interested in what Network Rail does and were keen to suggest innovative technologies we could use to clear leaves from the line, such as a big hoover attached to the back of trains!

What did I give and get?

I gave just 1.75 hours a week to run the STEM club; my commitment to running the weekly club allowed me to build positive relationships with the children and teachers. I asked the children to research engineering structures and design a multi-purpose freestanding structure that we could construct from recyclable materials. Teachers at the primary school asked for milk bottle donations and over 500 bottles were donated to the STEM club. After much discussion the children agreed we would glue the milk bottles into a castle structure and use it as a reading corner.

What have I learned?

I have learned that giving just two hours a week can influence, inspire and engage children to become interested in careers and challenges that they have not previously experienced. I was happily surprised by the level of detailed information the children wanted to know about Network Rail as it far exceeded my expectations, which served as a humble reminder that giving others time and patience is all that’s needed for them to flourish.