University of Hertfordshire wins award for encouraging families from under-represented groups to get excited about scientific careers

 1 January 2024 4 April 2023
20 March 2024

The University of Hertfordshire’s ‘Cosmic Curiosity’ collaborative project has won the Family Learning to Support STEM award at the Family Learning Awards 2023.

The Family Learning Awards from the Campaign for Learning take place annually to celebrate imaginative, innovative and inclusive learning. From testing new approaches to learning and communicating with families, to collaborating with partners to increase their impact, the awards recognise organisations that have innovated to support families over the last year.

‘Cosmic Curiosity’ is one of many projects from the University’s Outreach and Public Engagement Team in the Department of Physics, Astronomy and Maths. They work to support and maintain the science knowledge of people in underserved local communities. The team chose the name ‘Cosmic Curiosity’ instead of directly referencing science in the project name, to not discourage families who may already feel excluded from the subject.

‘Cosmic Curiosity’ is a collaborative project between Hertfordshire Libraries and the University of Hertfordshire to encourage a career in science. There were four sessions in each library, all located in the top 20% of the most deprived areas in Hertfordshire, held for children between ages four to seven and their parents and carers. This age range was chosen as the children are at the age where they are still positive about science. According to the National Library of Medicine, over the course of middle childhood, children’s interest and beliefs about their own capacities for success in science often decline.

Parents and carers were included as their misconceptions surrounding science, as well as their own confidence in science, can have a large impact on a child’s future aspirations. The sessions were themed about a career in space science and related counter-stereotypical career skills necessary for these roles, such as creativity for an aerospace engineer, as well as the families being provided materials for at home.

The feedback of the project showed that there was increased confidence from both families and staff to carry out astronomy activities independently. After the sessions, there was an increase of almost 2000 in the number of STEM-themed books borrowed from the libraries.

Nuala O’Flynn, Outreach and Public Engagement Manager in the Department for Physics, Astronomy and Mathematics said: “It's an amazing feeling to have our hard work recognised. Working on this project with Hertfordshire Libraries was an incredible experience, and witnessing the delight of families engaging in science learning was truly heart-warming. Moving forward, we are excited to collaborate on future initiatives and expand this program in the years to come to have further impact on families' connection with science learning."

The University will be continuing their partnership with the libraries. Some of their previous projects include running a James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) image exhibit in October in four libraries, and a display of STEM books and job profiles of women and non-binary SPECS staff in Hatfield Library for International Day of Women and Girls in Science.

A complete list of 2023 winners can be found here.

You can find out more about the outreach and public engagement team and their work here.


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