Aberdeen Science Centre delivers outreach programme to support STEM across the Highlands

Andrew Johnston and Fiona Mackenzie

ABERDEEN Science Centre has launched a new Highland and Islands outreach programme to give communities in rural and remote areas the opportunity to learn more about Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) activities and opportunities.

This project, the first of its type to be developed and delivered by Aberdeen Science Centre, is being led by Andrew Johnston who is based in Dingwall and Fiona Mackenzie who will work from Aultbea, Wester Ross, and managed by Dr. Kostas Minas from Aberdeen Science Centre.

The team is working closely with several partners including High Life Highland, a charity set up by The Highland Council, to develop and promote opportunities in culture, learning, sport, leisure, health and wellbeing.

As part of this collaboration, Andrew and Fiona are working with the libraries and the ranger service to provide STEM workshops for families and communities. Other partners include Education Scotland, the University of the Highlands and Islands, Skills Development Scotland and the Science Skills Academy.

Andrew and Fiona are keen to provide an awareness of STEM-related education and career opportunities across Highlands and Islands.

Previously a science teacher in Gairloch, Wester Ross for more than 15 years, Andrew then worked for Highlands and Islands Enterprise to establish the Science Skills Academy. This was funded by the Inverness and Highland City-Region deal and aims to inspire young people to study science, technology, engineering and maths.

The opportunity to work with Aberdeen Science Centre then came up to work on this exciting and innovative project, an initiative that engages with rural and remote communities to provide them with an opportunity to be involved with high quality STEM based activities.

“My aim is to build up a network of contacts in these rural and remote areas, and then deliver and develop activities based on STEM knowledge, to assist with promoting a well-rounded education in this field,” said Andrew.

“There’s a focus on careers and education opportunities, but we also want to help improve the public’s understanding of science, so a lot of our work involves raising awareness of science and how it enhances people’s lives, together with some of the ethical challenges it can pose.

“What we’re doing is complementary to other STEM initiatives”, he said. “Together we can identify gaps in provision across the region and create a programme to fill them. For instance, we are concentrating on working with adults, communities and families. Our workshops will be on a broad variety of topics, including the science of the brain, sports performance, genetics and satellite technology.”

Fiona, who has a degree in zoology, has held several posts in the science field, particularly fish biology, working with salmon and lumpfish, and as a shellfish sampler for the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA). Most recently, Fiona has worked in education, with a strong interest in outdoors and early years.

“I have had an active role in Aultbea Community Council for almost 15 years, and I am passionate about increasing opportunities for rural communities like Aultbea. I am excited to be part of the outreach delivery team, promoting science engagements locally in a fun, inclusive way”.

“We’ve already worked on some amazing events including some with a local library which we gave a STEM perspective.”

“To celebrate the year of Coasts and Waters 2020, we will be tailoring our programme of pop up science engagements at Highland gatherings, regattas, and fun days over the summer to fit the theme.”

Community engagement manager at Aberdeen Science Centre, Dr. Kostas Minas said: “I am very happy with this opportunity to inspire a lifelong interest in science, for communities in the Highlands and Islands.

“Andrew and Fiona have been proactively recruiting audiences and delivering activities, and response to date has been exceptional. Feedback from our engagements shows that our audiences find them extremely informative and beneficial.

“We are looking forward to learning from this programme and working with the communities to help enhance our delivery for years to come.”

Aberdeen Science Centre, opened in 1988 as Scotland’s first science centre, is currently undergoing a £4.7 million redevelopment. This has been made possible by support and funding from the Inspiring Science Fund – a partnership between the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), UK Research and Innovation, Wellcome, Opportunity North East (ONE) and Aberdeen City Council.

The Robertson Trust has provided funding to sustain the outreach programme in the Highlands and Islands. The project has secured a further £1.5million, to ensure quality of programmes and delivery to enhance the overall visitor experience at the venue and funding is ongoing for future programme and activities. 

The new-look Aberdeen Science Centre is due to open in summer 2020.

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