STEM SMART supports more sixth formers

Pioneering Cambridge programme offers state school A-level students enhanced learning and encouragement

Sixth-formers at STEM SMART residential in Cambridge

Applications are now open for sixth form students to join STEM SMART’s 2023 cohort.

The pioneering programme, launched in September 2021, offers enhanced learning and encouragement to UK state school students studying maths and science at A-level or equivalent, who have experienced educational disadvantage or are less likely to apply to University.

STEM SMART supports teaching already taking place in schools, providing extra resources including weekly online subject specific supervisions with Cambridge academics, and regular meetings to discuss university life with Cambridge student mentors. The programme also features a Cambridge residential stay.

New for this year is the inclusion of biology support – so to be eligible for the programme students need to be studying, or have studied, maths and at least one further subject from physics, chemistry, further maths and biology, at A-level or equivalent.

"The tutorials have given me a more in-depth understanding of topics."

- mature student Luc Jones, 21

Students built on their studies at the STEM SMART residential in Cambridge

Many hundreds of students from across the UK joined the pilot 2022 programme in January this year, after applying last September, and the number who have continued to engage with the course successfully since then - and progress from phase 1 to phase 2 - has exceeded targets.

In August, more than 300 sixth formers - among them mature students - currently on the course, spent time in Cambridge, staying at Colleges and learning in University departments, as part of the programme.

The four-day residential gave them the opportunity to work in University labs, building on skills they had learned online over the previous months, and experience life as a Cambridge student. They also received advice and guidance on applying to Cambridge - and other top universities - including preparing for admissions assessments and interviews.

Chisom Okafor, 17, an A-level student at a north London academy school, studying maths, further maths, physics, and chemistry, said STEM SMART had helped consolidate subject areas she had already studied at school, and the course was now helping her improve her problem-solving skills.

A-level student Chisom Okafor

A-level student Chisom Okafor

A-level student Chisom Okafor

“At the beginning of Year 12 I was still in that GCSE phase, where I hadn’t properly appreciated that A-levels were harder than GCSEs,” she said. “After choosing my subjects I had a look through some past papers, and thought ‘Oh gosh!’ I realised I could benefit from developing my problem-solving skills with extra practice, and that’s when I found STEM SMART.

“STEM SMART has helped build my confidence, especially in maths and physics – it’s helped me to become more fluent in explaining my method, and being able to justify my method. It means I’m now more likely to go up to the white board in school and write down my working out. Sometimes at school you just don’t have the time to look at a question and think - how does this work and why does it work?”

Chisom, who is looking at studying engineering at University, said as well as STEM SMART’s academic support, the mentoring aspect of the programme was beneficial. “You have the opportunity to ask students about University life and how to deal with other things, like managing the workload, alongside societies and extra-curricular activities. It means you get a much more detailed answer!”

Mature student Luc Jones, 21, who has missed significant periods of learning because of health issues, began A-levels in maths, further maths, and physics at a further education college near Cardiff, last September.

A-level student Luc Jones

A-level student Luc Jones

A-level student Luc Jones

He said: “STEM SMART has been very helpful for me. The tutorials have given me a more in-depth understanding of certain topics, and have revisited areas that I had gaps in. And when you look at a new topic, it means that you have a better grasp on it when you cover it in college later on.

“I’m looking at a career in computer science. I love maths, I love problem solving, but you still need to be disciplined to get the work done. I’d definitely recommend STEM SMART to others - it pushes you to revise, because it’s a target you want to reach each week, that’s separate from your college work.” 

"STEM SMART has helped build my confidence, and I've become more fluent in explaining my method."

- A-level student Chisom Okafor, 17

Sixth formers attend STEM SMART residential in Cambridge

Physics lecturer Dr Lisa Jardine-Wright, who is co-directing the STEM SMART programme, said: “The response and commitment from students on the STEM SMART pilot has been amazing, with 344 student invited to Cambridge for the residential part of the programme. Their consistent engagement will help them improve their problem-solving skills, add weight to their university applications, and help them when they begin a university course.

“The feedback we’ve had from students shows that confidence has increased in all subjects – maths, further maths, physics and chemistry - and we also know that the relationship the students have built with their Cambridge undergraduate mentors has been hugely important in building this confidence.”

Dr Michael Sutherland, co-director of STEM SMART, and Director of Studies in Natural Sciences at Corpus Christi College, said: “Being able to welcome STEM SMART students to Cambridge for the four-day residential was a thrill for everyone involved in the programme. Fifteen Cambridge Colleges took part, providing accommodation, catering and evening activities. It was a chance for students to consolidate their learning so far, get a taste of life at Cambridge, and hear more about applying to university. We hope its success now inspires more students to sign up for the course, and join the programme in January.”

More information about applying for the STEM SMART programme at Cambridge.

"The response and commitment from students on the STEM SMART pilot has been amazing."

- Dr Lisa Jardine-Wright

Students attend a lecture at the STEM SMART residential

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