The Faculty of Engineering at Stellenbosch University (SU) has a series of exciting workshops planned to stimulate and support learner participation in the STEM fields as part of the STEM@Maties programme, formerly known as the Science Buddies multi-school science club. STEM refers to the disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics but also alludes to Social Sciences, Agricultural Sciences, Economics, Education and Management Sciences.
This initiative, funded under the Social Impact Strategic Plan (SISP), is supported by the Faculties of Science, Economic and Management Sciences, AgriSciences and Health Sciences. The Social Impact Funding Committee approved the funding to strengthen the science and maths experiences in schools.
The science club was started in 2018 by Erika Hoffman, Facilitator: Teacher Professional Learning at SUNCEP, SU’s Centre for Pedagogy in the Faculty of Education, with 16 schools involved. The programme brings together researchers, postgraduate and undergraduate students to fulfil the goals of growing participation in STEM activities, especially to increase involvement in the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists and encourage collaborative learning involving researchers, staff and students from the faculties with learners from surrounding schools.
Furthermore, the programme wants to provide access to expertise and resources in key research categories to support Expo projects at SU, while also encouraging innovative thinking via project demonstrations, facilities visits, and providing mentorship by SU students, student leaders and staff.
STEM@Maties is coordinated by Prof Prathieka Naidoo from the Department of Chemical Engineering and supported by the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists, Stellenbosch Regional Expo Science committee.
Prof Naidoo says the programme lies close to her heart as it identifies talented and bright learners with a potential future as SU student and gives them the opportunities to acquire knowledge and to contribute to their individual and social development.
“It also aims to break the barriers and perceptions of access to SU and faculties, such that learners from other schools, who may not have considered SU as their tertiary institution to study, become acquainted with the environment,” she says.
Prof Naidoo continues: “This initiative can be adopted by other faculties and institutions to bridge the gap and to promote a culture of collaborative learning and engagement with a diverse group of learners and persons in society.”
Introducing learners to STEM at the first school visit for the year
The General Engineering Building was buzzing with excitement as 184 learners from 18 schools, accompanied by 24 teachers, attended the first of seven series of school visits on Saturday, 18 February.
There were eight demonstration stations, five academic staff, and eight researchers and postgraduate students from the Faculties of Engineering, Sciences, Economics and Management Sciences.
The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, ranging from “I loved that I learned so much about engineering and its departments,” and “The day awakened my curiosity and a bigger appreciation for engineering and science,” to “It gave me more insight into the things I find interesting and will help me with choosing my career path.”
Mary Anne Gutter, one of the 30 volunteers who assisted on the day, says she really enjoyed being a mentor. Gutter is a fourth-year chemical engineering student and the Vice Chairperson of Engineers Without Border: Maties Chapter.
“I had a great time getting to know the students and I’m excited to talk to them about their ideas and help them with their projects. I feel like I played a (very minor) part in getting them just as interested in science as I am, and I finally understood why teachers do what they do. I even emailed my science teacher afterward to say thank you for being a great teacher and putting up with my questions,” she says.
The next workshop will take place this Saturday, 4 March, also proclaimed World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural (UNESCO). The day prioritises activities that promote awareness of engineering as a career and those that demonstrate the importance of the STEM fields.
– Scholars exploring various demonstration stations and discovering new ideas and innovations.
(Due to data privacy regulations under POPIA act, we have blurred the faces of our scholars.)