20 December 2023
by Dr Diane Aston

Inspiring the next generation of STEM professionals

Rewarding opportunities to work with young people

There have been many reports over the last few years that focus on the number of people needed to fill our future demand for STEM jobs, and there is no doubt that those working in materials, minerals and mining will play a key role in our transition to a low-carbon, resilient & resource efficient society.  Encouraging young people to consider a STEM career, particularly one in the materials cycle must start at a young age.  Materials, minerals and mining topics appear in the school curriculum all the way through from year 1 to GCSE level and beyond, but these themes are rarely highlighted as offering specific career pathways.

There are many opportunities for you to support your local school(s) in bringing the curriculum to life, raising aspirations amongst young people, and influencing their career choices, both within lessons, in extracurricular activities.   The age group, group size and nature of activities that you get involved in are very much up to you.  For some people, working with primary school kids to instil a sense of curiosity in the world around them is their idea of heaven, for others it is their worst nightmare!  You might be happy to work closely with a small group of sixth form students or be comfortable talking to a whole year group of year 9s, or you may prefer the buzz of manning a stand at a large STEM showcase event like the Big Bang Fair.  You might not want to interact with the children at all, in which case, you could make a difference by becoming a Governor at your local school. 

You might only be able to offer one or two sessions a year, or you might be able to commit to visiting a local school every week or a few times a term.  I have certainly reaped the greatest rewards by building a close relationship with a school.  I set up and ran the STEM club at my kids' primary school for a number of years.  The children and teachers got to know me and became comfortable asking me all sorts of questions relating to STEM, knowing that they would get an honest (and age-appropriate) answer.  One year we had over two-thirds of the children in the school involved in extra-curricular activities and this was a fantastic achievement!

After 25 years of working in education and outreach, I can honestly say there are few things more satisfying than seeing that lightbulb moment in child when they suddenly understand something.  Working with young people has its challenges, but giving something back is the most motivating, inspiring and rewarding thing you can do.

Dr Diane Aston FIMMM MWES


However you decide to get involved, the best first step is to become a STEM Ambassador.  The STEM Ambassador programme, run by STEM Learning, has been going for many, many years in various guises (I first signed up as a Neighbourhood Engineer, the forerunner to STEM Ambassadors, in the mid-1990s) and offers an established and trusted route to working with schools and young people.  As a STEM Ambassador you will undergo some training and get regular updates about schools in your area that are looking for help.  Find out more about STEM Ambassadors

IOM3 has developed a number of presentations and resource for members to use in schools and we offer Resource Development Grants for those wishing to work with us to create new resources to enhance and enrich the teaching of materials, minerals and mining to 5-19 year olds and their teachers.  We are also very proud to be working closely with two organisations that are bringing materials, minerals and mining to the fore in schools.

Discover Materials has been set up to provide young people, their parents/carers and teachers with opportunities to find out more about Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) and promote courses in MSE in higher education.  Discover Materials Ambassadors take part in events around the UK and are available to visit schools to provide enrichment sessions. 

Find out more about Discover Materials

Minerals Matter is a focal point for promoting careers in the extractives and mineral products sectors.  Working with a wide range of partners, they engage the existing workforce to inspire the next one by supporting career-related learning activities in schools and colleges, facilitating teacher CPD, and engaging with the wider community.

Find out more about Minerals Matter



Dr Diane Aston

Dr Diane Aston

Head of Education & Professional Development, IOM3