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STEM initiative inspires future scientists

Year 12 students have showed their passion for chemistry and engineering recently when they presented innovative ideas to staff from Leeds-based speciality chemicals manufacturer, Stephenson Group. 

The initiative, which involved Dragon’s Den type pitches from Horsforth School students to a team from Stephenson Group,  was part of the nationwide STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programme, which the company is supporting. 

Several teams from Horsforth School took part in the initiative that saw them responding to real briefs set by Stephenson Group STEM ambassadors, designed to encourage problem-solving, time and budget management and presenting skills. Around 20 students were involved in the project. 

Students presented everything from their own branded soap and skincare ranges and devices that can test the ‘hardness’ of soap to a five-year green energy plan that Stephenson Group could implement onsite.

Global manufacturing business Stephenson Group, which specialises in soap production for clients such as The Body Shop and employs 100 people from its production plant in Horsforth, joined the STEM programme in May 2016.

The firm commits a team of volunteers from its workforce to the scheme including CEO Jamie Bentley, who help mentor talented students and encourage them to be creative with chemistry and engineering. 

Cheryl Speller, human resources officer at Stephenson Group, who helped co-ordinate the programme, said: “The presentations from the students were amazing. So much thought and preparation had gone into them and it was great to see them deliver their findings with confidence and real enthusiasm.

“The skills on display certainly bode well for a bright future and the STEM volunteers at Stephenson Group can feel proud of the encouragement they have provided to the students throughout the duration of the project. It’s been very rewarding for everyone involved with some inspiring work from the students.” 

Teacher Paul Caden, head of science at Horsforth School, said: “What a fantastic experience this has been for every student.  They have learned so much and it has been a valuable experience, offering a real insight into the world of science, chemistry and engineering.

“Dealing with a set budget, delivering a professional business solution to real problems and presenting their findings and recommendations to an inquisitive panel of industry representatives could have been quite daunting but they all coped with the challenge incredibly well. Handling a tough Q&A session at the end of the presentations also showed how they have all approached this scheme with maturity and diligence. This has been a great success and I would love to do it again next year.” 

With over 33,000 volunteers UK-wide, the STEM Ambassador Programme is a government-led initiative that encourages young people to think more positively about science, technology, engineering and mathematics – inspiring their study and career choices in these areas.

There are almost 1000 STEM Ambassadors in the West Yorkshire region alone, and together, they take part in over 500 STEM-related activities across the region every year – predominantly working with secondary schools. 

Four employees from Stephenson Group in Horsforth have volunteered to be STEM Ambassadors including CEO Jamie Bentley, Karl Godley  – shift manager, Tim Pulleyn  – marketing manager and Dave Bryant – maintenance fitter. The company says more volunteers have recently signed up. 

Jamie Bentley, CEO of Stephenson Group Limited, said: “It’s great to see chemistry and engineering being embraced by the next generation and to work with them on such an exciting, live project.

“With a fifth of our workforce being engineers and PhD qualified chemists, the STEM Ambassador programme is a great way for us to encourage interest in the study of science and engineering and it’s also a positive way in which we can give something back to our community by sharing our experience and expertise.”


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