by Ellie Chambers, Young People’s Programme Officer at the British Science Association.
Students put in a lot of time and effort into completing a CREST project , and we don’t want the students’ journeys to end there. We encourage them to continue to engage with the sciences and engineering in a number of different ways, including through our alumni network , volunteering  or public dialogues .
So we were delighted to find out that one of our alumni was using his CREST skills to work with a local school as part of his biology degree.
Deepesh Patel , a student at Durham University  used the CREST Award scheme to support his third year ‘biology into schools’  placement, developing practical lessons and teaching them to year 9 students from Whitworth Park School.
His work with the teachers and students certainly made an impact, and hearing about such a positive experience, we began to wonder if more universities and undergraduates could benefit from using CREST to support community engagement and leave a lasting legacy.
Biology into schools
Durham University offers its third year students the opportunity to take the ‘biology into schools’ module, in which students design and deliver biology teaching material in schools. The key aims of the module are to support the university student in developing communication and organisation skills, whilst offering a taste of teaching biological sciences in schools.
It’s also a great way to improve the links between the local schools and colleges with the university, and provides the school with an enthusiastic helper in lessons.
Professor PJ Hussey , Head of Biological Sciences at Durham University says, “The Biology Into Schools Module provides University students with the opportunity to share their enthusiasm for science and gain practical classroom experience in local schools.
“The module gives school pupils the opportunity to interact with role models and spend time with young people who are passionate about science and currently in Higher Education, allowing them to ask questions and develop their own ideas for the future.
“Through this module we are developing and maintaining strong, long-term relationships with local schools, inspiring the next generation of biologists. To leave a lasting legacy with a school as Deepesh has done through his CREST project work is a great achievement and something we encourage all our Biology in Schools placement students to do.”
Universities are under continued pressure to demonstrate how they are encouraging a wider range of people to attend university. In fact only recently an interim report  from BIS  and OFFA  said that universities need to do more to reach young people, especially those from black and minority ethnic (BME) groups who are usually under-represented within university populations across the UK.
In this particular case it can be seen that ‘near-to-peer’ mentors, like Deepesh, who are only a few years out of school themselves, can be a really effective way of encouraging young people to enjoy and potentially take up science in higher education.
As the CREST scheme is open to all abilities at secondary level, and encourages practical, creative and independent investigation, it is a perfect framework for students like Deepesh to use when creating new and engaging material for local schools.
Deepesh got the idea from his own experience of doing CREST, having done a Gold Award in 2009 through the Nuffield Bursary scheme  (now Nuffield Research Placements). He explained that CREST was initially how he got enthused by science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) and how it fits into society, and he felt this could be an eye opener for other students to gain knowledge and skills.
Deepesh worked closely with Andrea Charlton, a teacher at Whitworth Park School . She and her students benefited from the experience as it allowed the students to expand on the biodiversity and ecosystems part of the curriculum, and they earned a Bronze CREST Award from the British Science Association in the process.
Colin Wilkinson , CREST Local Coordinator  for the area, said that, “working alongside keen young undergraduates on real life science investigations has enormous benefits for school students. It builds deep engagement with the subject and its methods.
“Working with a great role model who brings with them enthusiasm for the subject and current knowledge of research and university life makes a career in science seem more accessible, and enriches learning for the students and provides an invaluable support to the teacher. Without a shadow of doubt, we need more initiatives like this to bridge the UK’s skills gap and grow greater engagement with science in schools.”
So in the future, will we see more universities supporting undergraduates using CREST as a framework for engagement to support their access agreements? If this example is anything to go by, we hope they will.