Pay It Forward: How STEM companies can help diversify their pipeline

14 Aug 2018

Dropbox sponsored a group of teenagers from Bridge21 to attend Inspirefest. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

A spark of inspiration at Inspirefest can encourage young people from underrepresented groups to forge a more diverse STEM pipeline.

At Inspirefest 2018, sponsors of the Pay It Forward programme supported youth groups to attend the event for a taste of science, technology and innovation in action. The aim of the initiative is to spark the curiosity of young people from underrepresented groups in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths). In turn, it allows companies at the forefront of the STEM industries to ensure the pipeline feeding their future is diverse and inclusive.

As one young attendee put it: “It was great to see … that people from all around the world have the same interest and you can do anything no matter what age you are, where you’re from and your background.”

Silicon Republic sponsored a group from the Dublin City University (DCU) Access programme, which endeavours to increase the number of students from underrepresented groups accessing, continuing and progressing from third-level education through outreach and support structures.

Bridge21 returned to Inspirefest for a second time thanks to support from Dropbox. This Trinity College Dublin education programme is exploring a new model of learning that suits 21st-century secondary-school students.

A group of mostly teenagers and a couple of Aon team members smile pose for a Pay It Forward group shot.

Aon’s Yvonne Jacobi joins a group photo with the Teen-Turn attendees at Inspirefest. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

Irish games services company Keywords Studios signed up to the programme for the first time in 2018. Its funding supported a group from the CS Sparks programme at University College Dublin (UCD), which teaches coding and computer science to girls in transition year at local DEIS schools. (DEIS schools are identified by the Department of Education and Skills as serving young people who are at risk of or experiencing educational disadvantage.)

Two adults and 11 teenagers smile and pose for a group photo, some kneeling and some standing.

Keywords Studios and Pay It Forward attendees from UCD CS Sparks. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

Inspirefest attendees from CS Sparks said they were inspired by speakers such as Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon, who started out young as a STEM advocate and is now CEO of Stemettes, a global movement; and Taylor Denise Richardson, who has just started flying the flag of STEM advocacy in her teens.

“It was really nice to see really young girls starting off what their dream was, and kind of just giving us a run for our money and our age,” said one student. “It was really heartfelt, almost, because you can relate to the girls.”

Another CS Sparks student added: “It just shows that women are the future.”

The opportunity to empower young women in particular and inform them of the possibilities for them in STEM was not lost on Aon, which sponsored the programme for a second year running.

This time, the company invited its Teen-Turn interns to the event. Four of these young women are currently doing work experience at Aon, continuing their taste of the STEM career experience and even giving the company recommendations on how to be more welcoming to girls like them.

“We are delighted to be partnering with Teen-Turn this year and look forward to developing and enhancing our relationship with a very dynamic group of young girls really interested in driving their futures in STEM,” said Yvonne Jacobi, chief operating officer of the Aon Centre for Innovation and Analytics.

‘It was great to see that you can do anything no matter what age you are, where you’re from and your background’

Two rows of teenagers, some kneeling and some standing, smile for a photo with Silicon Republic.

Darren McAuliffe from Silicon Republic with the DCU Access attendees on the Pay It Forward programme. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

Pay It Forward will return for Inspirefest 2019. Following up with Dr Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin, who brought her UCD Maths Sparks students to the event in 2017 courtesy of Aon, she said, “The students were enthralled by the talks and it was a very positive occasion for them to be part of such a vibrant and engaging conference.”

The secondary-school students Ní Shúilleabháin accompanied to the event met with people working for major sci-tech companies such as Facebook and heard from industry leaders who had similar backgrounds to their own.

“It was a pleasure to be part of this scheme and to share the opportunity with students from schools designated as disadvantaged,” she added.

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event celebrating the point where science, technology and the arts collide. Ultra Early Bird tickets for Inspirefest 2019 are available now.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.