By Liz Jeavans, Education Innovations Manager at the British Science Association

When you consider those who pursue STEM – science, technology, engineering and maths – who comes to mind? 

At the British Science Association, everyone comes to mind. We believe that all people should be given the chance to engage and excel in STEM and, to that end, are working hard to support audiences currently underrepresented in these subjects.  

Throughout my own career I have seen huge steps taken to address inequalities within STEM, but we all know that there is still much that we can do to increase the diversity of those choosing to connect with science 

Fortunately, the issue of diversity continues to movup the agenda for many organisations, which are working hard to open doors and make STEM subjects accessible for all, irrespective of background or socio-economic status  

The British Science Association is no exception. Here, we are committed to equality, diversity and inclusion and are putting it at the heart of what we do. We are actively supporting underrepresented audiences and helping them to engage with the endless opportunities and networks within STEM. We give grants, support groups and make connections that help these audiences see science as something that is for them. 

Of note is our support for schools serving students who are underrepresented in STEM, which includes grants to help them run project-based, student-led CREST Award challengesFun and fulfilling, these challenges relate to real-world scenarios and are available at various levels, helping 5-18-year-olds to develop key communication, research and independent thinking skills through a motivating awards-based programme 

Our underrepresented audiences grants are supported by UK Research & Innovation and help to remove the financial barriers that may otherwise prevent students from participating in CREST AwardsThrough this, we offer eligible schools £300 to purchase relevant equipment and up to £300 to cover the cost of CREST Award registration fees. We were delighted to award 33 grants through the first round of the scheme this academic year, which enabled students across the UK to complete an impressive spread of creative STEM projects. These included: 

  • A robotics project, which saw students programme their own micro:bit microcontroller. Deploying problem-solving, teamwork, analytical skills and more, they explored different materials such as sensors and motors to decide what actions the robot should take. 
  • A cosmetics project, which saw students make items such as lipstick, body butter, lotion bars and hair oils to complete the CREST Bronze Award. Some students even went on to achieve the Silver and Gold Awards by working alongside business studies teachers to consider how they can turn their cosmetic formulation into an indie cosmetic business. 
  • A project that made use of 'Stop the Spread' CREST Discovery Award resource, which encouraged students to investigate ways to stop the spread of diseases – an issue which is, now, more crucial than ever. Some students developed ideas for building hand washing stations in Kenya, some made hand sanitiser and face masks and others investigated how viruses spread using agar plates, iridescent powders and UV lights. 

The second round of the underrepresented audiences grants scheme is now open and we encourage all eligible schools to applyPlease visit the CREST Help Centre to find out more about the funding opportunity and to complete an online application form. The deadline for applications is 5pm on Friday 5 February 2021 

At a time when the attainment gap between the richest and poorest students has widened due to lockdown, providing additional support to engage underrepresented audiences with STEM really is more important than ever.