Innovation and Inclusion in STEM

Innovation and Inclusion in STEM

SciFest: Promoting Inclusion and Innovation in STEM

May 2021: There can be no denying that the Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated that STEM can make the seemingly impossible, possible. The multitude of incredibly efficacious vaccines that have been born of this difficult era are testament to the fact that necessity is the mother of invention and innovation. Furthermore, the degree of collaboration between industry and academia to resolve a universal problem has clearly borne rich fruit. We as educators must take a renewed sense of optimism that our students, in our classrooms right now, will be part of a generation that could hopefully solve the greatest existential threats facing humanity, namely the climate and biodiversity crises. It is the STEM skillsets that we develop in our student’s today that will be critical in the challenges of tomorrow.

If necessity is the mother of innovation, then perhaps inclusion is the father. To ensure that our society can bridge the STEM skills gap, we need as many students as possible to be engaged with STEM. We need to offer as many opportunities as possible, to as many students as possible. Only through encouraging individuals of all backgrounds can we ensure that the future STEM workforce will be broad and diverse enough. SciFest represents an avenue within the second-level STEM education ecosystem to achieve that objective. SciFest is free and is organised locally and regionally. This accessible model removes barriers to students and teachers and encourages everyone to get involved. The programme has grown from one fair in 2006 to over 120 STEM fairs in the last few years. Over 90,000 students have participated in the programme since its inception. The free and accessible nature of the programme lends to a high participation rate amongst every type of school, from community colleges to DEIS schools, from private schools to special schools. Inclusion means everyone, from a diverse array of backgrounds with unique perspectives. Homogeneity in a workplace is a likely recipe for complacency and sameness in thinking. In essence, inclusion and promoting diversity is a cradle for creativity and innovation.

It was with this mindset that SciFest approached the circumstance of the Covid-19 pandemic. Whilst nothing can replace the warmth, fun and atmosphere of a real-world STEM fair, an online equivalent still offers an opportunity for students to innovate and be creative in STEM. At the time of writing, the deadline for registration has passed for SciFest@College 2021, with nearly 700 projects registered. By the time this academic year comes to a close, nearly 30 schools will have hosted their own school fairs, in many cases remotely and online, undeterred by school closures. Further to this, five SciFest 2020 National Final Award winners will be representing Ireland at the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in May. In addition, this is the third year in a row that a SciFest winner has been invited to participate in the Broadcom MASTERS International programme which aims to bring 25 young and rising STEM stars from 22 countries to participate and exchange in specialised programmes and fun STEM activities. Finally, eight of the National Final award winners will represent Ireland at the Hong Kong Global Youth Science and Technology Bowl (GYSTB) in June.

All of the above arrives directly off the back of long-term school closures and are breath-taking examples of the passion and conviction of so many young people across the country. This level of engagement however is in particular a testament to science teachers the length and breadth of Ireland who, through incredibly challenging circumstances, have been able to enthuse, inspire and encourage their students to create a project for SciFest. The students, teachers and SciFest itself, have demonstrated resilience through the last year and proven that once barriers are removed, and ideas encouraged, innovation will soon follow and the once seemingly impossible, becomes possible.

Michael D. Higgins, Patron of SciFest
SciFest is a registered charity.

RCN 20081270

Michael D. Higgins
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