The Cell Explorers Programme – Piloting a Stem Public Engagement Model in Ireland

The Cell EXPLORERS programme (www.cellexplorers.com) is an education and public engagement programme that aims to inform, inspire and involve the general public in science, technology and research by connecting primary or secondary students and the general public with third-, fourth-level students, lecturers and researchers.
This programme is establishing a unique model of sustainable public engagement for Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in Ireland. It engages students in educational outreach activities as part of their degrees and also works with a growing volunteer base of students and researchers. This working model has the dual benefit of engaging families in local schools and communities whilst facilitating the training of tomorrow’s science communicators, educators or researchers.

Since 2015, additional Cell EXPLORERS (CE) volunteering teams have been established and trained to form a national network to test this model. Between 2015-2016, four CE teams, together with the founding team, have delivered public engagement science activities to more than 2000 school children nationally in Ireland.
Here we present some of the results collected to determine 1/ If the model acts as a sustainable avenue through which HEIs can engage their local communities in science and 2/ What aspects of the model need to be adapted or revised and why. In particular we have assessed different aspects of the programme including its organisation, how it benefits partner teams, their volunteers and their communities.

Preliminary results suggest that the CE model has a positive impact on both the science perceptions and attitudes of target audiences and the CE volunteers. Further studies at the national level may inform best practices for sustainability of this model for both current and future partner teams, Furthermore, an expansion of activities to a wide range of STEM topics could directly impact the dissemination of science education and public engagement by HEIs in Ireland.

Keywords: STEM, public engagement, Higher education, Informal learning