Umicore, Githo Nijlen and Thomas More prepare young people for STEM in their future
How can the business world help schools awaken young people’s enthusiasm for STEM fields and professions? This question has been preoccupying us at Umicore for some time. After a few previous projects, in which we inspired and informed young people about science, technology, engineering and mathematics, we have now joined forces with Githo Nijlen and Thomas More to develop a completely new STEM training programme. ‘A win-win for all parties involved, but especially for young people’, says Inge Van Antwerpen, Young Talent and Onboarding Manager at Umicore.
Supporting STEM initiatives has long been a top priority at Umicore. For example, two years ago we contributed to the “Da’s Geniaal” campaign. With fun experiments and challenges, we inspired children and young people to discover their inner scientist. Then, there was the “#STEMhelden” (STEMheroes) campaign, in which we showed young people how they could contribute actively to a better world with a STEM degree.
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Partners in STEM
‘But we wanted to do even more’, says Inge Van Antwerpen, Young Talent and Onboarding Manager at Umicore. ‘We are setting up intensive partnerships with several secondary schools. The Githo in Nijlen was one of them. In collaboration with them and the Thomas More University of Applied Sciences, we designed a completely new STEM programme for the school: Biological STEM sciences.’
During the 2021-2022 school year, the training programme will start in third year. After that, the programme will be gradually developed further. The first students from this programme will therefore graduate in 2024-2025.
‘Supporting STEM initiatives has long been
a top priority at Umicore.’
Inge Van Antwerpen (Umicore)
‘Githo Nijlen wants to be the school for science, engineering and business’ says Steven Helsen, principal of Githo Nijlen. ‘These are definitely not empty words. We have regular contact with the local business world, in order to ask about their needs and how we can meet them. This way, we have learned that companies are really looking for students and workers trained in science and technology.’
In order to give shape to the new study programme, a core team was set up consisting of teachers and management at Githo Nijlen, Umicore employees and lecturers from Thomas More college.
‘The students can work on concrete projects, including water purification. “We are going to purify the Nijlenbeek” (a brook which is located just behind the school), we often hear as a rallying cry’, laughs Steven Helsen. ‘I'm not sure if this is a realistic goal, but it is a fine example of how practically oriented we wish to be. The students will be able to collect samples from the brook, and then analyse them in the new lab. This way, they will immediately have their feet firmly planted in both nature and in practice.’
‘We have regular contact with the local business world, in order to ask about their needs and how we as
a training centre can meet them.’
Steven Helsen (Githo Nijlen)
Daring to dream
The refurbishment of the new classroom was also carried out at Umicore’s expense. ‘Along with our communication team in Hoboken, we got to work to make it into a great learning environment’, says Inge Van Antwerpen. ‘“Imagine what you could do”, we can now read in large print on the wall, along with colourful photos and illustrations where students show what can be done if they continue pursuing STEM. Who knows, in a few years we may well see them as a co-worker at one of our sites.’
The school already speaks highly about the design. ‘Many of our students start off in their first year with great interest in a STEM programme, but once they reach 15 or 16, many of them drop off. It is the age when they suddenly find things boring’, says Steven Helsen. ‘At that stage, an inspiring classroom such as this one can really provide extra stimulation.’
Lastly, Umicore will also organize internships and company visits for the school, which is located midway between its Hoboken and Olen sites. This will give students the opportunity to witness what STEM can mean within the walls of the company.