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How schools can get more out of volunteers or STEM Ambassadors

Published: Dec 3, 2021 4 min read

STEM learning

Ada Shum is a STEM Ambassador and currently Marketing Platform and Data Products Director at MoneySuperMarket. For International Volunteers Day she talked to us about why people volunteer, and how schools can make the most of their volunteers.

In recent years, I’ve got to know numerous schools and organisations closely linked to education, by taking part in STEM Ambassador events. Here are some of my observations, as a volunteer from the private sector, on how schools and teachers can get more out of volunteers to support their students.

Be curious about why your volunteers volunteer

Most volunteers I’ve spoken to give up their time to:

  • make a difference to the lives of others
  • to have a purpose
  • to feel part of a team
  • to feel valued
  • to gain new skills. 

By understanding what motivates your volunteers, it will really help you engage them and gain their commitment. And they will be more likely to tell others what an amazing experience they had working with you, and get you referrals.

Tell us what impact we’ve made

If your volunteers are driven by making an impact, they’d love to hear what difference they have made. It doesn’t have to be a full report or an essay. I found a few lines of anecdotal feedback, or a short email with one or two stats are enough to make volunteers feel it was worth their time or to help improve things for next time. In addition, when we got the data back from the 2020 virtual careers fair STEM Learning organised, I was able to use this evidence to get more resources and more colleagues to consider volunteering, which in turn meant more support for young people.

Help us know your school

Before the Covid19 pandemic, I visited over 10 schools within a space of a year, and I was amazed by how different they all were. Some had really formal assemblies, some were very hi-tech, and others had lots of staff, so I never quite know what to expect. One teacher I met took 5 minutes to explain how things work, and it really put me at ease, before I stood on the podium to speak to 500+ students.

Encourage questions from quieter students

Whilst I try to make sessions interactive for the young people, it is often hard to get a mix of pupils to ask questions, especially when I don’t know the personalities. I recall one assembly I attended, one of the teachers proactively sought out the quieter pupils, who seemed shy at first, and I was very grateful for that support so that the more introverted young people could also get involved.

Choose a diverse range of role models from different industries

Research from Microsoft showed that the number of girls interested in STEM across Europe, on average, almost doubles when they have a role model to inspire them. I strongly believe in having role models of different backgrounds, heritage, gender, etc. share their individual career stories, so we can debunk the stereotypes in the technology sector, and embed equality, diversity and inclusion into the curriculum. 

Be specific about what you need

On the STEM Ambassador website, there can be lots of requests from schools. Before deciding on which assignment to go for, I look for two things. 

  • Outcome: do I understand what the school wants to achieve? 
  • Time commitment: what is the expectation, given I work full-time?

I was particularly impressed by a teacher I met during British Science Week, who was very clear about what messages she wanted me to convey, and this meant I could tailor my presentation to that school.

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