Leverhulme Wildfires partners with charity Generating Genius, engaging students from African and Caribbean backgrounds in wildfire challenge

Leverhulme Wildfires partners with charity Generating Genius, engaging students from African and Caribbean backgrounds in wildfire challenge

The Leverhulme Centre for Wildfires, Environment and Society recently partnered with Generating Genius to run an outreach activity aimed at engaging A-level students in the topic of wildfires. Generating Genius is a UK-based charity which helps talented students of African and Caribbean heritage, and who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, to develop the skills and confidence to pursue STEM degrees and careers.

STEM graduates earn on average 20% more than non-STEM graduates. Yet, according to STEM Learning, in their 2018 report, there is a shortfall of over 173,000 skilled workers in STEM in the UK, with 89% of STEM businesses struggling to recruit. People from black and minority ethnic groups are consistently underrepresented in STEM, one of the many consequences of systemic racial inequalities in Britain. Supporting a pipeline into STEM careers is one way to help grow social capital and mobility in these communities.

The project with Generating Genius, which ran from April to June 2020, enlisted six PhD students from the Centre to create a “Leverhulme Wildfires Challenge”. Based across our four universities – Imperial, King’s, Reading and Royal Holloway – and coming from multiple disciplines, including social sciences, data science, ecology and physics, their task was to collaboratively develop a virtual wildfire-related challenge that would capture something of their different disciplines, whilst being both stimulating and accessible to A-level students.

The challenge brief, presented through a virtual seminar with the fourteen Generating Genius students, was to develop a fire management plan for Tapajós-Arapiuns Extractive Reserve in Central Amazonia. Presented with background information, the students needed to include a conceptual model, consideration of trade-offs, different stakeholder needs and perspectives, and budget allocation.

Working in pairs, the Generating Genius students submitted highly impressive entries, which really demonstrated the talent of these young people.  During a virtual prize ceremony, our PhD students gave feedback on all the entries, before finally awarding the prize to students Emily and Kudei (see video below, which was also accompanied by a written management plan).

The students were also tasked with writing a blog on their experience. The winning entry, which was chosen by a member of the Generating Genius team, was also awarded to Emily for her entry titled  ‘Leverhulme Wildfire Virtual Work Experience Challenge – Fires, Fun and Friendship’. Although she found the challenge ‘daunting at first’, she and her teammate Kudei soon got stuck in. Describing the challenge as one of the highlights of quarantine, they found that they expanded their knowledge on not only wildfire and environmental issues surrounding the Amazon, but also Brazil’s political, social and economic issues.

I am so proud of what we achieved together, and I’ll definitely remember this project as one of the highlights of quarantine.” (Emily, student)

Partnering with Generating Genius has been rewarding for all the students involved – our PhD students, some of whom had not met each other yet due to the COVID-19 pandemic, were able to interact and learn more of their different disciplinary perspectives – “It was a fun, engaging challenge and an interesting way to approach my own research topic from a very different angle” commented one student. We hope this will be the start of many other outreach activities by the Centre, opening up the field of wildfire research beyond the scientific community.

Contact: Dr Adriana Ford, Centre Manager, Leverhulme Centre for Wildfires, Environment and Society, wildfire@imperial.ac.uk