Four UL projects receive funding through SFI Discover Programme to promote STEM in Ireland

Pictured (l-r): Dr Sinéad McNally (DCU), Dr Gráinne Walshe (UL), Prof Merrilyn Goos (UL), Minister Halligan, Margie McCarthy (SFI), Judith Harford (UCD); and Brendan Tangney (TCD).

Minister for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development, John Halligan TD, has announced a national investment of €3.6 million through Science Foundation Ireland’s Discover Programme, to fund projects dedicated to educating and engaging the public in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

Science Foundation Ireland, through its SFI Discover Programme, aims to develop a highly-engaged and scientifically-informed public. Through the SFI Discover Awards, it provides funding for projects that inspire and guide the best in STEM education and public engagement.

There were four UL projects among the recipients:

  • The SOPHia project, led by UL, aims to encourage female students to take up physics as a Leaving Certificate Subject through an ambitious school visit programme with training for undergraduate facilitators and improved workshop design, a student competition for projects researching famous physicists/important physics discoveries/local physics, a showcase event to inform teachers of the issues with regards to gender in physics, an interactive website for parents, teachers and students, to supplement the school visit programme, with curriculum-linked activities.
  • Another UL initiative, STEMChAT, will develop innovative approaches to address the serious under-representation of women in the STEM workforce in Ireland. By creating new, engaging approaches to providing career information for school students and parents, the project will address barriers to STEM careers experienced by females.
  • Young Modellers will empower students to identify and apply the mathematics and statistics (mathematical sciences) that they learn in class to solve real-world problems, giving participants a first-hand experience of mathematical and statistical modelling.
  • Lero, in conjunction with education and advisory partners, proposes to support the introduction of Computer Science on the Leaving Certificate by providing input from computer science international best practice and through the evaluation of teacher CPD. Lero is an internationally recognised centre of excellence in software research, located across nine HEIs, and currently provides similar support in conjunction with JCT (Junior Cycle for Teachers), industry and educational partners for the Junior Cycle Short Course in Coding.

41 diverse initiatives will be supported by this year’s programme, with successful awardees being carefully selected through international peer-review. A further 11 projects that were awarded in 2017, will also have their funding continued for a second year.
Speaking at the SFI Discover Awards event, Minister Halligan said: “Science Foundation Ireland’s work in promoting science, technology, engineering and maths to the public stimulates very important public conversations around scientific research and encourages young people to consider pursuing a carer path in these areas. To address the many global challenges we face across society and the economy, we must ensure that future generations of problem solvers have the opportunity to be inspired. Ireland continues to act as a hub for excellent research and the initiatives being funded through this year’s SFI Discover programme will help to generate enthusiasm for STEM and highlight the individual, societal and economic value of encouraging more people in Ireland to get involved.”

A number of the projects receiving funding are specifically targeted towards engaging girls and women in STEM.

Speaking about the Programme, Interim Director of Science for Society at Science Foundation Ireland, Margie McCarthy, said: “The SFI Discover Programme encourages people from all walks of life to become informed about, and engaged with, STEM. Through SFI Discover we harness the creativity of diverse engagement initiatives to motivate more people to explore STEM in meaningful ways, and we aspire to create a brighter future for Ireland together. The projects being announced today are very exciting and I look forward to working with them to inspire our future scientists, engineers and innovators.”

Science Foundation Ireland has invested in over 240 public engagement projects through the Discover Programme since 2013. This year’s funded initiatives are estimated to reach over two million people.