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North East STEM Foundation marks British Science Week with launch of ‘radio ham’ initiative at UTC S

The North East STEM Foundation (NESF) has provided a grant of £1,500 to UTC South Durham to kickstart the launch of an amateur radio initiative.

As part of British Science Week, a 10-day celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) that takes place between 8 – 17 March 2024, the project will delve deeper into science, engineering, and culture through the fascinating world of amateur radio.

One of the aims is to encourage more women to become ‘radio hams’, with recent figures revealing that approximately 15% of licensed radio amateurs are women.

Amateur radio is a technical hobby that uses designated radio frequencies for the non-commercial exchange of messages, wireless experimentation, self-training, and emergency communications.

Students will pursue a personal Ofcom amateur radio licence and study to pass an examination, which will enhance their UCAS and apprenticeship applications. This will also further their practical understanding of maths, electronics and physics through the practical application of concepts necessary for the setting up, adjustment and correct use of the radio equipment, as well as designing and building a suitable antenna system to enable communication.

The programme, led by the science and engineering faculties at UTC South Durham, is spearheaded by Professor Ian Neal JP DL PFHEA FRSA who is British Science Week coordinator at Radio Society of Great Britain and is Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Sunderland. Until he retired, he was Dean of the Faculty of Education and Society and Professor of Higher Education at the University for more than 25 years.

The NESF’s mission is to ensure every young person, regardless of their background, can access high-quality STEM education in a modern environment supported by employers. It seeks to future-proof both local industries and the economy by producing highly skilled and innovative workers. This is achieved through outreach programmes, eliminating financial barriers to STEM education, and creating high-quality STEM-focused learning environments at key educational stages.

Professor Ian Neal said: “This is a great initiative as amateur radio is not just a hobby; it encourages experimentation and assists in expanding our understanding of the world around us through due to the cultural aspect, since communicating across time zones and with those from other countries which all supports the inclusion of STEM into the humanities.

“By providing students with hands-on experience, this project will enrich their practical knowledge of maths, electronics, and physics, as they learn to set up, adjust, and operate radio equipment.”

Tania Cooper MBE, chair at the North East STEM Foundation, said: “We are delighted to support UTC South Durham in this initiative, which will enhance UCAS and apprenticeship applications to help set students apart in an increasingly competitive field.

“However, it isn’t just about technical skills and gaining qualifications; it’s about diversity and inclusion. With only around 15% of licensed radio amateurs being female, we’re committed to bridging this gap. Through targeted efforts, we aim to empower and encourage women to participate, ensuring equal opportunities for all.”

UTC South Durham is one of 46 University Technical College’s across the country, all of which were founded by a university and employer partnership with a specific subject specialism.

Established by Sunderland University alongside Gestamp and Hitachi, the UTC has a specialises in engineering and advanced manufacturing. Starting their studies at UTC in Year 10, students travel across the North East to access unique courses and state-of-the-art facilities that mirror today’s workplace. It is a formula with proven success as in recent years, students have graduated to start degree level apprenticeships with well-known companies.

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