Cambridge LaunchPad lifts off to encourage more young people into STEM courses and careers

PUBLISHED: 11:26 16 October 2017 | UPDATED: 17:01 07 November 2017

Supporters of Cambridge Launchpad gather for the launch event at Churchill College. Picture: Keith Heppell

Supporters of Cambridge Launchpad gather for the launch event at Churchill College. Picture: Keith Heppell

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The Cambridge Independent is among the companies supporting the project.

Cambridge Launchpad will enable youngsters to try out STEM-related activities in school and at workplaces. Picture: Form the FutureCambridge Launchpad will enable youngsters to try out STEM-related activities in school and at workplaces. Picture: Form the Future

Schools and businesses have joined forces to tackle a key skills challenge facing Cambridge: a shortage of young people embarking on STEM courses and careers.

Cambridge LaunchPad has officially taken off to encourage more youngsters – particularly girls – to consider pursuing qualifications in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The project, run by social enterprise Form the Future, is backed by leading STEM businesses Marshall, Arm, Schlumberger and TTP Group as core partners, with many more, including the Cambridge Independent, providing support.

The supporters will help to provide gender-balanced activities and competitions at primaries, secondaries and sixth-form colleges in Cambridge, South Cambridgeshire and East Cambridgeshire, designed to promote interest in STEM courses and careers.

Robert Marshall talks to Prof Dame Athene Donald. Picture: Keith HeppellRobert Marshall talks to Prof Dame Athene Donald. Picture: Keith Heppell

The number of jobs requiring students of STEM subjects is growing fast in the city’s thriving knowledge economy.

Nearly half of Cambridge companies in these fields say finding appropriately skilled staff is their biggest challenge.

Andy Rice, Form the Future’s senior business development manager, said: “Cambridge LaunchPad has an ambitious vision: for Cambridgeshire’s LaunchPad schools to have more students choosing to take STEM A-levels per head than any other group of schools in the country. Let’s face it, if not here, then where?

“We believe that this is an objective that all Cambridgeshire science and technology companies can rally around.

Dr Anna Aldred talking at the Cambridge LaunchPad launch event. Picture: Keith HeppellDr Anna Aldred talking at the Cambridge LaunchPad launch event. Picture: Keith Heppell

“If we want to maintain the momentum of the Cambridge Phenomenon, develop the talent pipeline of the future and bring all the fragmented STEM outreach activities under one banner, then we have to work collaboratively to create a real movement for change.”

Incredibly, just eight per cent of engineers are female, and just 13 per cent of STEM jobs are occupied by women.

The country has witnessed a 13 per cent increase in the number of technology companies in the last five years alone.

Cambridge LaunchPad’s approach is to work with youngsters throughout their school career.

Form the Future's Michaela Eschbach talks at the Cambridge LaunchPad launch. Picture: Keith HeppellForm the Future's Michaela Eschbach talks at the Cambridge LaunchPad launch. Picture: Keith Heppell

Pupils taking part in Cambridge LaunchPad are either Stars, Innovators or Scholars, depending on their age group. Here are the schools already involved:

Stars schools: Abbey Meadows Primary School, Bar Hill Primary School, Cherry Hinton Primary School, Fen Ditton Community Primary School, Fulbourn Primary School, Home Education Network, King’s Hedges School, St Faith’s, Teversham CE Primary School

Innovators schools: Bottisham Village College, Coleridge Community College, Comberton Village College, Home Education Network, Netherhall School, North Cambridge Academy, Parkside Community College, Stephen Perse Senior School, Swavesey Village College

Scholars schools: Hills Road Sixth Form College, Long Road Sixth Form College, Netherhall Sixth Form, Parkside Sixth Form,

A previous LaunchPad eventA previous LaunchPad event

The companies and organisations offering support for Cambridge LaunchPad are:

Core partners: Arm, Marshall, Schlumberger, TTP Group

Associates: A14 integrated Delivery Team, Amazon, Anglian Water, Babraham Institute, Cambridge Cleantech, Cambridge Independent, Cambridge Regional College, Churchill College, Domino, Horizon Discovery, Microsoft, Mott MacDonald, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Cambridge Academy for Science and Technology, TWI, Morgan Sindall, Makespace, Zeiss

Supporters: AstraZeneca, MathWork, RealVNC, Skanska.

Robert Marshall, chairman of Marshall Group, addresses those at the Cambridge LaunchPad launch. Picture: Keith HeppellRobert Marshall, chairman of Marshall Group, addresses those at the Cambridge LaunchPad launch. Picture: Keith Heppell

LaunchPad began life in 2015 as an initiative by Marshall, but the aim was always to widen it to involve others.

Robert Marshall, chairman of Marshall Group, who attended the official launch at Churchill College last Thursday, told the Cambridge Independent: “Too many people, especially girls, are forfeiting science subjects at A-level and thereby limiting their careers.”

He told those gathered at the launch that they could make a “massive difference”.

Also speaking at the launch was Prof Dame Athene Donald, professor of experimental physics based at the Cavendishg Laboratory and master of Churchill College, Cambridge, who said she was “delighted to support this great initiative”.

The Cambridge LaunchPad launch event at Churchill College. Picture: Keith HeppellThe Cambridge LaunchPad launch event at Churchill College. Picture: Keith Heppell

She spoke about the cultural and societal barriers preventing more girls and women into STEM subjects and careers.

She said: “There’s no doubt that we have a problem finding female students. Only 20 per cent of A-level physics students are girls.”

Similar gender gaps exist in engineering and computing, she said.

“For schools to counter that is massively important,” Prof Donald added. “This is a problem which programs like LaunchPad I sincerely hope will go on to do something about.”

The Cambridge LaunchPad launch event at Churchill College. Picture: Keith HeppellThe Cambridge LaunchPad launch event at Churchill College. Picture: Keith Heppell

Dr Anna Aldred, Form the Future’s STEM outreach project manager, told the Cambridge Independent: “There is a debate within the science education community regarding teaching science with the view of promoting higher and further education and careers versus science for citizenship.

“I do not believe that educators should choose between these approaches, they can and must go hand-in-hand as science is not just a body of facts, but a process of enquiry that is applicable to every aspect of everyday life.

“Science should know no borders or barriers, Cambridge LaunchPad aims to conquer the perceived obstacles to STEM learning and careers. LaunchPad engages with and brings together local businesses and schools to demonstrate to young people between the ages of 8 and 18 the diversity and inclusivity of STEM with the view to encourage young people to take STEM subjects at A-level and beyond.

Michaela Eschbach, Form the Future director and co-founder, said the project will be powerful because “it is delivered jointly by local STEM companies inspiring young people aged 8-18, with a particular focus to overcome gender stereotypes”.

Prof Dame Athene Donald is professor of experimental physics at the Cavendish Laboratory and master of Churchill College. Picture: Keith HeppellProf Dame Athene Donald is professor of experimental physics at the Cavendish Laboratory and master of Churchill College. Picture: Keith Heppell

Following last Thursday’s launch, she added: “We are absolutely brimming with pride and overwhelmed by the number of companies within the Cambridge and Greater Cambridge STEM communities that share the Cambridge LaunchPad objective – to inspire, enthuse and educate our local young people.

“Without all of our contributing partners, notably our Core Partners Arm, Marshall, Schlumberger and TTP, Cambridge LaunchPad would not be able to engage in the way it does to shape the future of local students and the STEM sector. This year marks the start of a new phase for Cambridge LaunchPad and we are delighted to be a part of the changes and to see it go from strength to strength.”

■ Visit cambridge-launchpad.com.

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