A group from Teen-Turn attended Inspirefest through a Pay It Forward bursary sponsored by BT. Image: Conor McCabe Photography
A group from Teen-Turn attended Inspirefest through a Pay It Forward bursary sponsored by BT. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

Pay It Forward: Giving young people a chance to see if STEM is for them

27 Jul 2017

For some young people, STEM role models can be hard to find. To help them to see what they can be, Inspirefest and Facebook welcomed them this summer with the support of BT, Aon and AdRoll.

As an event focused on diversity and inclusion, Inspirefest goes the extra mile to ensure as many people as possible are represented both on stage and in the audience. This means diversity of gender and race as well as age and socioeconomic background.

While young people are welcome to join the event as a free plus-one with a guardian, the organisers understand that not all under-18s are fortunate enough to be brought along by an adult with a ticket. And so, for Inspirefest 2017, a new Pay It Forward initiative was introduced.

Through Pay It Forward, brands and organisations could sponsor a bursary to bring 10 young people or a disadvantaged group to Inspirefest.

At this year’s event, BT, AdRoll, Aon, and both the Inspirefest and Silicon Republic teams funded Pay It Forward groups to attend the unique sci-tech festival. Through these grants, they welcomed young people from the St John Bosco Youth Centre, Bridge21 at Trinity College Dublin, Learning Hub Limerick, Teen-Turn and Maths Sparks from University College Dublin.

UCD Maths Sparks - Pay It Forward

Students from the Maths Sparks programme at University College Dublin were sponsored to attend Inspirefest 2017 by Aon. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

“We run a maths programme over a number of weeks for students who come from DEIS schools,” explained Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin from Maths Sparks. “We target DEIS schools specifically because they are 50pc less likely to study honours maths, which means they’re less likely to study STEM courses.”

By bringing these students to the collaborative cocktail of innovation that Inspirefest has come to represent, the idea was that they would be able to see pathways into STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) for themselves, and change their representation in these industries for the future.

“We hear this phrase a lot: ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’. And – especially in low socioeconomic areas – if students aren’t looking up to people that they know who are … working in technology, working in science, working in engineering, they don’t necessarily have a pathway to aspire to” said Ní Shúilleabháin.

Taking this idea of ‘believing by seeing’ one step further, event sponsor Facebook brought the Pay It Forward groups on a tour of the international HQ in Dublin’s docklands.

“We thought it would be a great idea to open up the doors of Facebook and let a group of people see what it’s like to work in Facebook, what the culture’s like, what the business is like and also the kind of different opportunities that might be available here,” said Kelley Cousins, ‎corporate communications manager at Facebook Ireland, who introduced the groups to the creative, commercial, business, engineering and other roles in operation at the global social media platform.

“What we want to do is let people know that there are opportunities and that it’s not beyond the realm of possibility for people to work here,” she said.

St John Bosco - Pay It Forward

AdRoll sponsored a bursary for a group from the St John Bosco Youth Centre to attend Inspirefest. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

Indeed, the experience made an instant impact on student Winnie Imasuen. “It was really interesting seeing the different jobs that are in Facebook, the different departments, how people work together. You don’t think something like that is going behind an app that you use almost every day, really,” she said.

Learning Hub Limerick - Pay It Forward

Learning Hub Limerick travelled to Dublin for the event with a bursary from the Inspirefest team. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

“The Pay It Forward idea is a wonderful one, and giving the DEIS school kids an opportunity to see such a showcase event like Inspirefest is so important. It gave them access to speakers from such varying backgrounds and helped them to see that there are so many possibilities for their lives and careers,” said Anthony Cronin from Maths Sparks.

This could be seen through Dr Niamh Shaw’s Inspirefest keynote on following her dream, no matter how impossible it seemed, which impacted student Emilia Wojtowicz. “I found that really inspirational, and I want to apply it to myself as well,” she said.

Bridge21 - Pay It Forward

The Pay It Forward group from Trinity College Dublin’s Bridge21 programme was sponsored by Silicon Republic. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

Indeed, over the course of two days in ‘Silicon Docks’, the Pay It Forward students left with an insight into the possibilities STEM holds for them.

“During the day, I asked the Maths Sparks students if they intended on going to college, and they all do and all mentioned STEM subjects or medicine. One boy even wants to study mathematics, which was wonderful to hear,” said Cronin.

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Ultra Early Bird Tickets for Inspirefest 2018 will be on sale soon. Sign up here to be the first to know when!

Elaine Burke
By Elaine Burke

Elaine Burke was editor of Silicon Republic until 2023, and is now the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. Elaine joined Silicon Republic in 2011 as a journalist covering gadgets, new media and tech jobs. She later served as managing editor before stepping up as editor in 2019. She comes from a background in publishing and is known for being particularly pernickety when it comes to spelling and grammar – earning her the nickname, Critical Red Pen.

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