Around 100 attendees gathered for this year's Engagement Day to discuss how to meaningfully engage diverse young people with our work and research.
Colleagues from Imperial, partner organisations and universities in the UK and beyond, gathered at the end of November for a day of talks, discussions and presentations at the Royal Geographical Society, exploring equitable youth engagement.
"Engagement Day 2023 was a wonderful opportunity for colleagues and partners to explore how we engage with the next generation. Diversity, equity and thoughtfulness were at the heart of these sessions and I look forward to seeing how the inspiring words of our youth panel in particular impact our work in future," said Professor Maggie Dallman, Vice President (International), Associate Provost (Academic Partnerships) and Professor of Immunology, who welcomed attendees.
Engagement Manager (Capacity Building) Charlotte Coales chaired the thought-provoking panel discussion comprised of youth partners Selma Shafi, a Speech and Language Therapy at the University of Greenwich; Hala Zein, a youth advisor who champions inclusion, accessibility and engagement, and Isra Sulevani, a research participant and co-researcher who was made homeless while studying for her A -Levels.
They each drew on their personal experiences to offer a unique perspective on the realities of engaging with STEM and research. Selma spoke about how her time with the Young Producers at the Great Exhibition Road Festival had helped her to overcome social anxiety, Hala stressed the importance of kindness and accessibility in engaging with young people, while Isra talked about how her involvement in qualitative research became therapeutic, allowing a distraction from the intensity of her home life. She implored the audience to look past ‘tick-box diversity’ to real life experience when trying to assemble representative samples or panels.
Asked what their one piece of advice for practitioners might be, Isra said ‘just be human’; Selma ‘don’t overcomplicate things’, and Hala: ‘think about what would attract you, your family or friends’.
During her keynote speech, Professor Louise Archer, Karl Mannheim Chair of Sociology of Education at University College London, urged delegates to embrace points of discomfort in their practice and challenge their own thinking to better engage with diverse young people. Professor Archer shared the results of a 14-year study examining barriers to engagement with science subjects, with tools designed to help organisations ‘pause and reflect’, and work more equitably. Her study, which followed 50 young people into adulthood and saw over 47,000 surveys completed, identified a multitude of ‘lost scientists’ – those ‘who had the passion but not the chance’, due to a combination of cultural and societal factors.
Following lunch and networking, attendees split into Deep Dive Discussions on three topics: ‘Safeguarding, ethics and engaging responsibly with young people’; ‘Art, activism and championing the voices of young people’; and ‘Social media, youth settings and how to reach young people’. A series of ‘Lightning talks’ rounded out the programme, with speakers delivering a quickfire overview of their work, ranging from the production of an award-winning film about mental health, to LEGO and design engineering activities; Young Producers at the Great Exhibition Road Festival, and young people as co-researchers.
The event concluded with words from Dan Simpson, a spoken word poet, who collaborated with panellists Hala and Isra on an original piece to close the day. Dan skilfully wove together phrases mentioned throughout the programme, alongside moving personal reflections from Isra and Hala. You can read their words here.
Engagement Day left attendees with much to reflect on, including inspiration for future activities and a wide range of opportunities to get involved. 92% attendees felt inspired by what they heard at Engagement Day and 96% reported they connected with colleagues, with others saying that they were more motivated (88%) and confident (84%) about engaging with young people after attending. Above all, Engagement Day was a call for us all to play a part in supporting equitable engagement with young voices.
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