WIT helps school pupils learn about MS, cancer and pharma

200 pupils discussed their dream jobs and what courses to take to get there.

200 pupils discussed their dream jobs and what courses to take to get there.

WIT's CALMAST and Waterford students come together to learn about MS and cancer and what local companies do to help patients through STEMreach

Coordinated by Calmast, Waterford Institute of Technology’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) outreach centre, transition year (TY) students and primary school pupils from 11 Waterford schools worked together to learn about diseases such as MS and cancer and how local companies develop drugs for patients.

New initiative

STEMreach, a new initiative of Calmast aims to introduce primary pupils and second-level students to new areas of STEM through peer teaching, links the students with local industry and with Waterford Institute of Technology with Calmast being the coordinating central hub. TheSTEMreach programme is a 6 week modular programme. The Paired Science module was developed by Colette Kearney, science teacher at Mount Sion CBS Waterford, who initiated the project with PLICS (Promoting Literacy in Communities & Schools). The programme receives support from local pharma companies Sanofi and EirGen Pharma and from Science Foundation Ireland (SFI).

Dr Cordula Weiss, Manager Calmast, says “Pupils and students are highly motivated to participate in peer teaching and peer learning, they finish the project with an in-depth understanding of the topic and gain confidence and self-esteem while working together. It is amazing to see how they each develop personally over the course of the project. ”

Six week learning programme

“It is important for everyone in our society to understand diseases such as MS and cancer,” says Colette Kearney, science teacher at Mount Sion CBS. “In the six week STEMreach Paired Science programme, participants discovered together how our body works and what MS does to the nervous system and how cancer affects our cells. They learned about science, science careers, and local pharma companies who are using science to save lives.”

Groups from all schools involved came together in Waterford’s Tower Hotel where more than 200 pupils worked together in one Giant Paired Science class.

Importance of STEM from a young age

Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development, John Halligan TD, opened the event, saying: “Ensuring that students of all ages interact positively with STEM from a young age is crucial to their development into individuals who are informed about and engage with science and technology. A fantastic way of ensuring this is through hands-on peer learning, where they can utilise and hone their collaboration and teamwork skills while building their confidence and curiosity. It is very promising to see the work STEMreach has done in this aspect, bringing students together to learn about very real illnesses like MS that affect patients in Ireland. I wish to congratulate Calmast and Waterford IT on their excellent initiative, and to commend all the students taking part in this project on their hard work.”

Giant class

“The giant class was a great opportunity to observe the students’ progress over the last six weeks,” says Dr Weiss. “They developed excellent communication skills through STEM, learned about MS and cancer and about therapies developed for the diseases and were encouraged and motivated to learn and share their knowledge. The students were also inspired to think about higher education STEM courses at WIT and career opportunities at local industries.”

MS Ireland, the Multiple Sclerosis advocacy group, and the Solas Centre Men’s Choir also visited and people whose personal life was or is affected by either cancer or MS also spoke to the participants.

“The grand finale with more than 200 pupils created a sense of community between the participants - something that they will remember for a long time. The students have learnt about the science behind the diseases of MS and Cancer, they have learnt about local Pharma companies here in Waterford City - EirGen and Sanofi who are making pharmaceuticals to treat these diseases, they also learnt about the STEM Courses available in Waterford IT that will allow them to pursue exciting careers in these local companies. Thus, STEMreach Paired Science is a real community project,” said Dr Sheila Donegan, Director Calmast.

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