In 2015, Ogden Outreach Officer Dr Martin Archer launched a pilot initiative at Queen Mary University of London to introduce GCSE and A-Level students to cutting-edge particle and astro physics. Now, in 2019, the Physics Research in School Environments (PRiSE) programme has been shortlisted in the Times Higher Education Award's Widening Participation and Outreach Initiative of the Year category.
PRiSE works with more than 30 London schools each year, focusing particularly on those students from backgrounds under-represented in higher education and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). As part of the programme students and teachers receive introductory workshops and school visits from researchers, before undertaking a six-month independent research project which they then present at a conference held at Queen Mary.
The programme has built students’ confidence in science, developing skills not typically encountered within school, and has had lasting impacts on their physics and aspirations. The programme has also resulted in a peer-reviewed paper, with student co-authors who successfully identified sounds caused by a solar storm.
“I enjoyed the opportunity to do science instead of just learning it”
Dr Martin Archer, PRiSE project lead from Queen Mary’s School of Physics and Astronomy, said: “I have been developing PRiSE over the past five years and it’s been wonderful to see the long-term effects these projects are having on young people and their teachers. For this to be recognised nationally through the nomination is utterly fantastic.”
“I am now pursuing a physics degree from Cambridge. Thanks for helping me find my enthusiasm for physics!”
PRiSE has developed teachers’ practice through the relationships forged with Queen Mary: teachers develop new lesson content, skills and mentoring; gain confidence in discussing research; and raise their school’s STEM profile by sharing students’ work.
The Ogden Trust considers this model of working as an example of excellent practice in university outreach. The length of the PRiSE programme means that students have repeat interventions resulting in noticeable changes in attitudes and skills.
“The opportunity to take part in authentic research over a longer period of time, and to present findings to others, enables students to ‘be’ the scientist and develop that as part of who they are,” said Clare Harvey, Chief Executive of The Ogden Trust. “Working in collaboration with teachers over the course of these projects is also contributing to their continuing professional development, impacting upon all the young people they work with.”
Martin has presented the programme to Ogden Outreach Officers from across the UK and has had interest from other Officers for rolling it out in their institution.
These are the 15th annual THE Awards, and the first to feature a range of categories covering all university activity under one banner – excellence will be recognised both in academia and across the professional services.
THE editor John Gill said: "I am delighted to say that the ‘Oscars of higher education’ go from strength to strength. With 23 categories this year, we’re showcasing more exceptional stories than ever before, and it’s a real honour for us to shine a spotlight on all those who have made it as far as these shortlists – their stories deserve much wider circulation."
The award in the Widening Participation and Outreach Initiative of the Year category will go to the most imaginative and innovative project that promotes diversity and encourages people from non-traditional backgrounds to enter higher education or extends the reach of the institution to new areas of activity.
The Awards ceremony is the biggest night of celebration in the UK HE calendar, and will take place at the Grosvenor House Hotel on Park Lane in London on 28 November 2019.