Ask RTC: An interview with Chris Jones, STEM Ambassador
STEM Ambassadors are a UK national treasure, they bring fresh and inspiring perspectives to young learners. Chris Jones became a STEM Ambassador in November 2018 and we caught up with Chris to find out his reasons for signing up and how he benefits from volunteering:
“It is a wonderful opportunity to give back. I personally have benefitted from the generosity of teachers in the past. They were prepared to put in the additional effort to help me achieve more than I thought I could. Therefore, I wanted to repay their generosity for those kids today who might be struggling.
“I know what it’s like to come from a tough background with a disabled mother etc. I can relate to them in a way that others don’t understand. I have found that a lot of them can have ideas way above their age and I would always encourage anyone to dream big! This is a great opportunity for me to encourage them to be creative and imaginative and what is better than that!”
Which RTC STEM programmes have you been involved with?
“I was a STEM Mentor for a secondary school in Darlington for three years.
“I was a Space Dragon as part of a UK Space Agency programme where I had to judge a number of STEM related projects. I was also a business ambassador to a primary school in the Tees Valley as part of the Tees Valley Trailblazers programme ran by the STEM team here at RTC North. What a fantastic experience that was!!
"Wherever I go, I always encourage others to sign up to the programme."
What do you personally get out of it?
“Satisfaction that I know that I am helping. Reflected excitement of the kids – really does build me up, even if I am down. Allows me to flex my thinking – kids will always ask you the questions that nobody else does. I have learnt that I must always have a well-considered answer! It keeps my mind young!
“The act of giving, better to give back – better to give than to receive. I learn almost as much as I give to the kids.
“I also get to meet fantastic people – other Ambassadors, mentors with different industrial experiences. Partnering with another mentor as part of the Tees Valley Trailblazers programme was an invaluable experience.”
Did you have any aims/outputs for any of the projects you were involved in?
“I would like as many of the schools as possible to have a team of kids, capable, prepared and able to pitch a business idea. I want them to understand that there is nothing wrong with making money.
“Making a profit is not simple, but its not a bad thing. I also wanted them to understand the discipline that is required to start and run a business. Anyone can do it, but it is hard work.
“For the mentoring programme, I set a number of objectives at the start of the year that would help the child I was working with to be more confident to stand at the front of the class to pitch the idea. Knowing the maths and being able to articulate correctly in English so people can immediately understand without any ambiguity. Building confidence in the individual, enabling them to be able to pitch and take questions from their peers with confidence. The three students I mentored very much led the discussions and the input they required from me. They were all looking for an increase in confidence – I was working with kids who were disadvantaged and had educational struggles which in turn reduced their confidence. One wanted the confidence to pitch an idea to his uncle as his uncle had money!
“There is a time commitment when you sign up to these programmes. The mentoring programme worked out at about 30 minutes every other week during term time or once every three weeks. Most of the time they turned up! I mentored all boys, aged between 14 & 16.
You don’t have to go it alone either. The pack of info that I received from the STEM team complete with a mentoring workbook was really useful. As was the chart with top 10 employability skills (Gatsby) which employers are looking for, this helped me to focus. Having a framework allows you to build kids expectations.
“My role in the Tees Valley Trailblazers project was to be a ‘sounding board’ right from the start, supporting and challenging the students in setting up their own businesses. At the end I also listened to their pitches prior to them presenting in front of a panel of judges. When working with schools it is really important to get the buy in from the lead teacher right at the start and agree all engagements in advance. One of the engagements was a Q&A session with the questions led by the kids. Myself and the other business ambassador, tried to provide the best possible answer but one that the pupils could understand. We would both encourage them to reach for the stars, to harness that ‘can do’ attitude and the importance of resilience. We would emphasize the message, ‘Don’t be an anybody’, what can you do? We would also remind them that no idea is a silly idea. In terms of time commitment for anyone who is reading this, I would spend about one hour every fortnight providing support.”
What do you see the wider benefits to RTC?
“It puts RTC as a recognised thought leader as well as raising the profile of RTC generally. Look at the companies who do STEM, there are some VERY big companies who are dedicated to doing STEM and we are playing in the same field as them. It gives us that credibility across the North East in particular.
“Programmes like these give us early access to the potential talent of the future. Participants and supporters become familiar initially with the STEM programme and in turn look towards RTC as a potential employer. Let’s hope with some of the work that we engage with that we see a higher level of applicants applying for jobs. We are growing the regional skills base. We are all aware of the lack of Engineers and Scientists coming through at all levels, programmes like these (and others) give us the opportunity to shape a young person’s life at key points in their educational journey.
“I see through these STEM programmes we are positioning alongside some of the really big STEM companies in our region, that perhaps would never have been on our radar.”
“We are opening ourselves up to working with companies across the whole of the UK because of STEM. We are on a much bigger stage, and STEM gives us access to this i.e. the likes of the UK Space Agency, working with the Aldrin Foundation, guest lecturing opportunities with the University of Northumbria – this wouldn’t have happened without our commitment to STEM. You never know where something might take you. We have fantastic outreach with the space festival that RTC runs every year – we are on an International stage with STEM engagement – it means we get noticed.
"We also mustn’t forget the A in STEAM as well! Some people have a more creative approach to STEM and therefore engage better in a more creative, arts-based approach than just purely STEM intervention. Any medium we choose to use to inspire, enthuse and engage young people and their teachers and parents, has equal value."
Who/what inspired you to pursue the career that you are currently doing?
“My English teacher who believed in me and allowed me to believe in me! The people who I have met through my life who challenge me every day to – The Moon Landing – Apollo launch when I was eight. I always had that passion from being younger. I have been lucky to have met some amazing people and they have always challenged me to do more. One of my key drivers is a desire to educate, to tell stories, to be seen as someone who passes on their knowledge. The acquisition of knowledge and transfer of knowledge is very important to me.”
What advice would you give to a 10-year-old you?
“It gets better!! People will never understand you but that’s ok and live life to the full!”
“STEM engagement/mentoring is a challenging but very rewarding exercise. The reward is seeing someone really start to believe in themselves and what they are doing. That ‘lightbulb’ moment – seeing that, that is the payback.”