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A special science day for young people of refugee and minority ethnic communities aims to encourage them to consider the place which science might have in in their lives and educational futures.

The event is being run this weekend jointly by Heriot-Watt, Edinburgh and Edinburgh Napier Universities, co-hosted by the Multi-Cultural Family Base (MCFB), with funding from the Royal Academy of Edinburgh’s Youth Academy of Scotland (RAE YAS), and is being led by Dr Maïwenn Kersaudy-Kerhoas. 

In science, engineering and technology we need inclusiveness, as the diversity of thoughts is important to generate high quality research and tackle tomorrow's challenges.

Dr Maïwenn Kersaudy-Kerhoas

Maiwen is an Assistant Professor at Heriot-Watt’s Institute of Biological Chemistry, Biophysics and Bioengineering (IB3) in the School of Engineering and Physical Sciences, and is also an Honorary Fellow at the Division of Infection & Pathway Medicine (DIPM) at the University of Edinburgh.

She was inspired by seeing images of refugee families arriving in the UK and Europe, and wondered what sort of wider, long-term opportunities their welcome might involve. She decided to use her place of work and the concept of widening access to higher education to offer the young people something new as part of their wider welcome, and devised an open day which would involve the whole family. 

The general goal of the event is to encourage young people from minority communities into Universities, in particular Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) activities, to demonstrate the inclusiveness of international scientific research and to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers from a variety of backgrounds.

Dr Kersaudy-Kerhoas, who conceived and organised the event, stresses that STEM disciplines themselves could stand to benefit as much as the individual young people and their families. 

“In science, engineering and technology we need inclusiveness, as the diversity of thoughts is important to generate high quality research and tackle tomorrow's challenges. A range of scientific breakthroughs across the years have demonstrated this. 

“Perhaps education and career opportunities in science, engineering and technology aren’t what people first think of when they consider the immediate needs of families entering the country as refugees or immigrants. But we want to make sure that young people making their lives here have the opportunity to consider these options, and that future STEM research projects have the opportunity to benefit from the talents that they might bring.”

Practical experience and feedback

Indeed she hopes that the day may bring some immediate benefits to her own research. “Part of our own collaborative work is in developing small scale portable devices for the diagnosis of viral infections in the field and to allow rapid treatment. I am looking forward to feedback from the families based on their own practical experiences of travel and the challenges they encountered in getting to the UK. It will all feed into producing equipment which can support diagnosis and treatment in challenging practical conditions.”

The day-long event will be held at the Division of Infection & Pathway Medicine (DIPM) at the University of Edinburgh, to encourage the young visitors into considering university, in particular STEM activities, and to demonstrate the inclusiveness of international scientific research. The programme includes presentations, games, information/play desks and lab tours for older children. Student and staff volunteers from all three universities will be present to share their experience and facilitate the day.