A new, classroom-based programme called Futurewize, aimed at inspiring young Junior Cycle students to explore a new world of career possibilities that are opened up through the study of STEM related subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) has today been announced.

Jointly-sponsored by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and industry partner Fidelity Investments, Futurewize is designed by Junior Achievement Ireland (JAI) and developed for delivery by business volunteers. The official launch of the Futurewize programme was attended by Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton T.D. who lent his support to the innovative programme.

Speaking at the launch, Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton T.D. said: “I am happy to support Junior Achievement Ireland in their 20th anniversary year, to help launch Futurewize. This programme aligns with the new Junior Cycle science course and its content strands: the physical, biological, and chemical worlds; and Earth and Space and the Government’s renewed policy focus on providing supports in this area. Futurewize will shine a light on the career options open to students in STEM and is a great example of an industry education initiative supporting Ireland’s National Skills Strategy 2025.”

In 2016/17, more than 2,000 students will complete Futurewize with 80 trained business volunteers from Fidelity Investments and other volunteer companies. Working with the 13-15 year olds in their own classrooms once a week for five weeks, Futurewize volunteers will serve to highlight the importance and relevance of STEM subjects and their links to a huge range of potential career pathways.

Students will be completing the exciting junior cycle science curriculum with their teachers. The involvement of industry volunteers working alongside teachers will serve to help students make links between their studies and post-school careers. Specially-trained volunteers will act as role models from the world of work by sharing their own real-life experiences as they work through the Futurewize modules, which map the four strands of the new curriculum: Earth and Space, Chemical World, Physical World and Biological World. Linking each module to varied careers and fields of study is a core design principle as is providing extended learning opportunities so that students get take-home materials where other family members can be involved in exploring career options and discussing the relevance of STEM skills.

Speaking at today’s launch as the brand ambassador for Futurewize, Dr Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin, Assistant Professor in the UCD School of Mathematics & Statistics and science communicator said: “I am passionate about inspiring students to be curious about the world around them and to be aware of the opportunities available to them should they decide to continue to study subjects such as science, mathematics, technology and engineering. An important part of this is that students meet and engage with positive role models from industry who can provide them with insight into what it might be like to work in science, technology, or engineering related jobs and businesses.

Junior Achievement is encouraging this engagement with the Futurewize programme and I am delighted to be an ambassador for this scheme encouraging more interactions between researchers, industry, and education. The JAI programme is also committed to attempting to address the gender gap in students studying STEM subjects and this is something I am passionate about.”

A key focus of Futurewize is bridging the existing gender gap in girls pursuing further education and careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths related fields. The Futurewize (STEM skills) programme will have 60% female participation levels on the course. Schools partners on the Futurewize programme are based across the country in Dublin, Cork, Waterford, Limerick, Galway and the Border Counties.
Research has identified that ‘fitting in’ is the most significant factor influencing a student’s choice about what to do after school. Futurewize will help to excite students about STEM, showing them what career opportunities are possible, encouraging them to look beyond stereotypes and to prepare for jobs of the future. By seeing the relevance of science and technology in their everyday lives, students can start to see where they can fit in to these diverse and exciting fields.

Speaking on behalf of JAI, Chief Executive Helen Raftery said: “We are very excited about this collaboration with SFI and Fidelity Investments. JAI has been supported by industry and school leaders in delivering entrepreneurship education opportunities to young people for 20 years. Over 150 businesses release 3,000 business volunteers from across a range of industries to facilitate JAI programmes each year to complement the work of families and teachers in inspiring and motivating young people to maximise their potential. Futurewize is a great addition to the menu of options we offer our partner schools and businesses, all of which see the educational benefits of industry-education engagement. We were delighted to have input from science teachers and other educational specialists in the development of the programme which will inspire students to reach their full potential and consider the variety of careers available to them in STEM.”

Steve Ashmore, Head of Technology Services, Fidelity Investments and industry partner behind the Futurewize programme said: “Fidelity Investments in Ireland is delighted to partner with Junior Achievement Ireland and Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) to develop and deliver this Futurewize programme. We know that early STEM education, particularly for girls, is critical in influencing the career choices that students will make, helping to bridge the gender gap in STEM related roles. Fidelity Investments has had a long-standing relationship with Junior Achievement Ireland and as such we know the really positive impact and important contribution our employees are making by supporting enterprise education in our local communities.”

Dr Abigail Ruth Freeman, Director of Strategy & Communications, at Science Foundation Ireland said: “Science Foundation Ireland is proud to support Junior Achievement Ireland to deliver the Futurewize science education programme. In partnership with Science Foundation Ireland’s Smart Futures programme, Futurewize will help to inspire the next generation of scientists, technologists, engineers, mathematicians and entrepreneurs in Ireland.”

A podcast interview with brand ambassador for Futurewize, Dr Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin will be up later today.

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