On 11 March 2020, more than 30 years after graduating from University of Birmingham with a degree in Chemical Engineering, Yvonne Baker re-entered the lecture theatre where she had spent many hours engaged (or not on some occasions!) in her education at university to deliver the 2020 EPS Distinguished Lecture.
The University’s scientific journalistic society SATNAV spent the afternoon with Yvonne, attended her lecture and roundtable discussion, and hold an exclusive interview with her. Abigail Joyce shares her unique perspective on the day, and Adam Dorey provides write-up of the riveting discussion.
Yvonne had a hugely successful career in manufacturing in numerous sectors before serendipitously accepting a role running what would eventually become the immensely successful STEM Ambassador programme.
With 33,000 STEM Ambassadors having volunteered 1.8 million hours of their time so far to work with young people, schools, and colleges, are having a large impact on STEM teaching in the UK. True to the programme’s vision of ensuring students from all backgrounds are given the opportunities, skills, and knowledge to thrive on STEM-related career paths, over 81% of young people involved have said they were positively impacted by the activities organised by Ambassadors across the country. The authenticity and relatability of STEM Ambassadors allows young people to see themselves as capable of achieving their goals in professions they may never have previously considered.
The evening lecture was brimming with interesting discussions about the role STEM is likely to play in global issues, and how it is more important than ever that STEM education is accessible to every young person, regardless of their background. Yvonne emphasised the importance of promoting creativity within STEM and how it is often incorrectly perceived that STEM subjects are not inherently creative. “We live in a multidisciplinary world” Yvonne stated. We need a broad and balanced curriculum to match this. We also need the focus to shift from filling gaps and quotas to providing young people with the inspiration, information and motivation to go into whatever career they would be able to make the biggest impact in.
The lessons Yvonne emphasised that she had learnt throughout her career can be applied to anyone, at any stage of their life, and it was refreshing to hear as a student moving onto the next phase of their career. She began with a quote from John Lennon: “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” “Life is unpredictable” she said, “and you can only be sure it won’t go the way you plan.” Take every opportunity available to you, and get involved in volunteering wherever possible- the benefits to your health, wellbeing, and career are numerous, not to mention the impacts on those you work with. Embrace failure, as rarely is it an end; more often is it the beginning of a new venture. Finally, throughout all things life throws at you, keep perspective, as Yvonne quotes: “give me the grace to accept the things that cannot be changed, the courage to change the things which should be changed, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Adam and I had the pleasure of interviewing Yvonne and joining a roundation discussion with her. Adam's overview of the discussion is also available online. We hope you enjoy sharing our experiences in both of these.
Yvonne's Lecture was recorded in full for your enjoyment and is available on the University's YouTube Channel.
The EPS Distinguished Lecture Series is part of the EPS Community. To find out about activities and events within the community, and hear more from our alumni and student societies, head to www.birmingham.ac.uk/eps-community.