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STEM Mentoring Encourages UK Girls to Lead the Way 

Jul 13, 2017 02:36 PM

“We are delighted to welcome (Symantec's) Darren Thomson to the TeenTech board. We’ve been very aware of how much support and how many opportunities Darren was personally providing for students - from mentoring to work experience. Darren brings great understanding of the real workforce needs of fast growing and fast changing tech companies, and we are looking forward to working with Darren as we head toward TeenTech's very special 10th anniversary year.” - Maggie Philbin, CEO and Co-founder of TeenTech




By Darren Thomson, EMEA CTO & Vice President, Technology Services

With mentoring support and industry encouragement, teenage girls in the UK are embracing STEM and shaping their futures.

One of my personal goals as a CTO at Symantec is to encourage more female youth to consider careers in Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) fields, including cyber security. As a volunteer mentor for the past two years, I have had the privilege of working with two high-school students, Lauren Shae and Lucy Rawlings through TeenTech, an award winning, industry-led initiative that engages young people aged 8-18 across the UK in STEM.

Above: TeenTech CEO and Co-founder Maggie Philbin, kicks off the 2017 TeenTech Awards.

TeenTech offers year-round mentors, live innovation events, and STEM workshops to introduce students to the wide range of STEM career possibilities. The organization also hosts the TeenTech Awards, an annual initiative that challenges young people to tackle key societal and environmental issues using the power of STEM. At the 2014 TeenTech Awards, my mentees Lauren and Lucy won the People’s Choice Award for their idea of an intelligent medical shuttle, which led to incredible opportunities for the girls. They went on to be crowned 2016’s ‘Teen Heroes of the Year’ by BBC Radio 1, met Prince Andrew, were invited to Buckingham Palace, and discussed racecar engineering dynamics with the Williams Formula One racing team. At just 17 years old, Laura has also been named one of the Top 50 Engineers Under 35 by The Women’s Engineering Society (WES).

Above: Students from Alexandra Park School accept the 2017 TeenTech Award for Safety & Security for their biometric bike lock that lets riders ‘stick’ their bike to any metal surface using electromagnets.

For my part, I’ve focused on connecting their awards win to future educational and career opportunities. With the support of TeenTech and Symantec, Lauren and Lucy have used the experience to choose universities, complete their A-levels, and think about their future careers. They have obtained real-world experience by generating thought-leadership content for Symantec, as well as helping with marketing at our customer-focused Spotlight event. Most importantly, they now serve as TeenTech Young Ambassadors in their community and at their all-female school, Alton Convent, demonstrating to others girls across the UK all that is possible when pursuing an interest in science and technology.

In England, students must choose their General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) exam topics and at Alton Convent, the percentage of students choosing to take their GCSE in physics has increased from 43% to 87.5% in the two years since Lauren and Lucy won the TeenTech Awards. While the school’s STEM curriculum has not changed, more girls are now studying physics at A-level than any other time in the school’s 200-year history.

While Lauren and Lucy have just finished their A-levels and are in the process of applying to university, their legacy is the real impact that continues to grow in the halls of Alton. As role models and ambassadors, they have helped change how their peers think about STEM, as well as how they think about their futures. For decades students were told that an interest in IT led simply to a career as programmer. Lauren, Lucy and TeenTech have helped open up the eyes of youth across the UK, showing the endless possibilities technology skills can provide, including a career as a racecar engineer. Lauren, Lucy and TeenTech have also shown girls across Europe that STEM is not a field “just for the boys”. For the second year running, girls led the charge at the 2017 TeenTech Awards, with females making up over 60% of the winners.

In my new role as a board member for TeenTech, I’m excited to further expand our mentoring and ambassador programs so more girls like Lauren and Lucy can embrace STEM and shape their futures. Empowering student mentors to share their inspiring STEM ideas and TeenTech experiences will encourage other female students to continue to buck gender stereotypes and embrace the diverse career opportunities offered in STEM fields. My work with TeenTech is directly tied to and supports Symantec’s goal to excite, engage, and educate one million students in STEM education by 2020.

As I move into my board role to help TeenTech with more organizational strategy, I am proud of the others on Symantec’s technical teams who have stepped in to mentor, find ambassadors and help with TeenTech logistics. As an example, as a sponsor of 2017’s TeenTech Awards, Symantec employees Clive Finlay and Paloma Garcia sat on the panel of judges and heard finalists from the UK, Spain, Finland and Hungary, share their ideas including a hand-held cancer detector, floating cities, and wearable devices that detect UV rays. I am proud of what Symantec, TeenTech, and Lauren and Lucy have already accomplished in engaging youth to pursue STEM careers and look forward to scaling the TeenTech program to inspire more young people to use technology to solve our world’s greatest challenges and create the future.  

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