Churchill Fellow, Dr Lisa Jardine-Wright, is spearheading a new University initiative that will aim to support talented students from non-fee paying UK schools and widening participation backgrounds through seventeen months of their A-levels.

STEM SMART, which is currently supported by thirteen Cambridge Colleges, the School of Physical Sciences and the Department for Education England, aims to register many hundreds students and guide them through three phases which will take them all the way to their A-level (or equivalent) exams. This programme will be completely free to all eligible students.

Starting in January 2022, STEM SMART will begin with phase one where they will be set weekly work to complement their school studies, they will have weekly online tutorials with Cambridge University subject specialists will be able to attend motivational online lectures by speakers such as Professor of Mathematical Biology, Julia Gog. This will all be supported by the Isaac Physics team.

Participating students will also be supported by Cambridge undergraduates who will hold fortnightly online chats about the student experience and engage in myth busting about Cambridge University. Each pair of students, ideally one studying a STEM subject and one non-STEM, will mentor groups of around fifteen students.

Phase two, which will be extended to those who have shown a real commitment to the programme so far, will see the participants receive small group supervisions each week to develop their fluency and confidence in all of the topics that they will face in their exams and in their university applications. They will then be invited to attend a four-day residential in August hosted by the Colleges involved, where they will start to think about their applications and what might be expected of them in admissions assessments and interviews.

The third and final phase will be focused on ensuring the participants are well prepared and practiced to achieve the best A-level results that they can.

One key challenge of the programme is to ensure that it reaches those with potential who might not have considered engaging with or applying to Cambridge. There are academic requirements for those who apply, such as achieving at least a 7 (A) in GCSE maths and 6s (Bs) in the sciences, Lisa is adamant that any student with the potential to excel in the sciences should be given the opportunity to do so.

“We want to help bridge the attainment gap for those who have experienced educational or social disadvantage and enable students to see the true range of courses, universities and careers open to them. Sadly, we can’t remove all the challenges faced by students but we can provide flexible additional subject expert tuition, for example, to help those who are juggling their education alongside other commitments and for those who are perhaps learning alone. We will provide motivational support and unlock potential in students who underestimate or lack confidence in their own ability. It is a common belief that you either can or can’t do maths and science – that is simply not true – you get better by doing more. You get better by doing things wrong and not giving up, and with help, learning from your mistakes. Students will have access to expertise to answer their questions, to unlock their time and to help them to do better. A study by Prof. Louise Archer and a team at the Institute of Education, UCL, showed that especially girls thought you needed raw talent and hard work wouldn’t make a difference – you need to feel confident to succeed. I can attest first hand that practice really does make a difference.”

Applications will close on the 31st October, and if the programme is a success, it could run for three years and even be expanded to include other subjects. Needless to say, we are excited to see bright young minds taking the opportunity to unlock their potential and seeing where it takes them.

For more information about applying for STEM SMART, click here.