Crossrail: Expanding STEM Outreach Resources for the Young Crossrail Programme

Sponsor: Crossrail & the Institution of Structural Engineers CrossrailD16_photo
Sponsor Liaison: Lauren Hillier, Crossrail
Nick von Behr, IStructE
Student Team: Seth MacDonald
Vakhtang Margvelashvili
Reed Maxim
Abstract: The goal of this project was to develop the Build your own city programme for Crossrail, for utilisation in the Young Crossrail STEM outreach programme. We designed and developed this programme by interviewing Crossrail staff, STEM educators, and ambassadors to determine the most appropriate programme criteria. Stakeholders identified the need for a programme to inform and inspire students about STEM careers. Ambassadors will deliver the programme using six handbooks and two presentations to guide participants.
Link: Final report (CrossrailD16_report)
Final presentation (CrossrailD16_presentation)

Executive Summary

The demand for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) employees in the United Kingdom has been on a steady increase. However, today, the number of people choosing to pursue careers in STEM is failing to meet the demand of new job openings in STEM fields. Several organisations and companies within the United Kingdom have been trying to reduce this deficit through STEM ambassador programmes. Ambassador programmes work to promote adolescent engagement in STEM education through collaborative, hands-on learning activities. These programmes utilise ambassadors: volunteers who work to facilitate the activities that attempt to engage students.

The Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) and Transport for London (TfL) invested £15.4 billion in launching Crossrail Ltd. as a company in 2002 to create a railway connecting central London between the east and west. In addition to creating the new railway line, Crossrail has worked extensively on community outreach. The company developed the Young Crossrail programme in 2009 to promote student interest in STEM, utilising ambassadors from a wide range of both STEM and non-engineering backgrounds. As Crossrail will end construction in 2018, the company seeks to construct a ‘learning legacy’ to educate future construction companies on the lessons learned throughout their project. Included in this learning legacy are the programmes that Young Crossrail ambassadors have facilitated. In prior years, WPI students have developed low-budget programmes for key stage three (ages 12-14) and high-budget programmes for key stage four (ages 14-16) students, but not low-budget programmes for key stage four students.

Our team worked with liaisons from Young Crossrail and the Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE) to formulate a programme that could engage key stage four students with little cost to participating institutions. The Build your own city programme addresses the need for engagement in this age group by involving students, aged 14-16, in STEM through a low-budget, multi-phased challenge that tasks teams to work collaboratively to solve a simplified version of the real-world problem of the housing crisis that London currently faces. Crossrail’s new Underground line, which will be named the Elizabeth line, will bring an estimated 1.3 million more people within 45 minutes of the city. Our programme works to frame the problem of housing and population growth and facilitate student engagement while also exposing the students to a real-world problem that they may face if they choose to pursue a career in a STEM field.

After designing our programme, we pilot tested an abbreviated version of it with a group of 13 and 14-year-old students at the Sherburne Girls School to gather feedback. In addition to pilot testing the programme, we also presented the programme to a group of STEM educators to gather feedback on it. The pilot test and educator feedback helped us to identify areas of our programme where we did not clearly convey instructions, as well as help us to identify time constraints for the programme’s different phases. We utilised the feedback we received from students and educators to adjust and improve our programme’s instructions to be more clear and concise and then presented the edited version to the STEM ambassadors we previously interviewed. After receiving their feedback and making minor edits to instructions, we submitted our finished programme to our liaisons at Young Crossrail and IStructE for implementation in their STEM outreach programmes.

Project objectives and methods
To develop our programme, we conducted interviews with our project sponsor liaison sponsors to identify the type of programme they wanted our team to create. We utilised their feedback to create a set of research questions that addressed their programme criteria. We then interviewed stakeholders, including STEM ambassadors, STEM professionals, our liaisons, and non-STEM employees working on the Crossrail project. We also performed literature reviews to answer our research questions and begin the preliminary programme design. After creating a preliminary programme curriculum and supplementary materials, we facilitated an abbreviated programme pilot test at a UK secondary school and gathered participant feedback on the programme. We then revised our programme and gathered stakeholder input to finalise our programme and its accompanying materials. We submitted our finalised product and recommendations for implementation and revision to our liaisons for their use with key stage four students.

Programme structure
We developed the Build your own city programme to provide a low budget and open-ended team challenge that incorporated structural engineering and was geared towards key stage four students in the Young Crossrail programme. The six-hour challenge is composed of three major phases, each consisting of multiple modules. STEM ambassadors will work as programme facilitators by introducing the challenge to students and assisting them throughout the programme’s duration. Throughout our research process, we identified that students learn best when applying learned skills to real-world contexts. We accordingly chose to parallel our challenge with the housing crisis in London, caused by the lack of affordable housing in the greater London area.

Teams of three students, each assisted by a STEM ambassador, will work collaboratively to design, present, and construct a model of a housing complex to house 200 people. The students will play one of three roles in their teams; they will work as the team’s architect to design a floorplan for the housing complex, the team’s project manager to create a project budget, or the team’s structural engineer to create a materials schedule. In the design phase, team members will work collaboratively to design their complex on paper and identify necessary materials and associated costs to construct it. In the bid phase, teams will present their blueprints to their ambassador, who will constructively critique their design before its approval. Finally, in the build phase, teams will construct a small-scale model of their design via low-cost craft materials that we have identified and associated with the real-world materials that the students used in the design phase.  After the hands-on challenge concludes, the ambassadors will encourage teams to evaluate their finished product and methods to reflect on how their challenge relates to real-world structural engineering challenges through discussion with their ambassador. The ambassador will also highlight academic and vocational steps that interested students can take to pursue a STEM career.

Supplemental Materials
In addition to creating our programme, we also developed a set of guides which future ambassadors and participants can use to run the programme. We created a learning legacy package that includes ambassador presentations, ambassador guides, and student briefs and guides, as well as supplemental resources that facilitators and participants can utilise to cater the programme to their individual needs. The ambassador presentation includes a PowerPoint presentation for ambassadors to present to student participants in order to introduce the students to the programme and how it relates to engineering. The ambassador guides provide ambassadors with detailed explanations of the programme, challenges teams may face, and their roles as facilitators. Moreover, the guides include supplemental resources that the ambassadors can use to facilitate the programme more effectively. The resources include materials that inform ambassadors about gender inclusivity and review the technical skills ambassadors must have or obtain in order to facilitate the programme effectively. The student briefs and guides provide participants with the materials they need to fulfil their roles as architects, project managers, or structural engineers throughout their challenge process. Finally, the additional resources include potential modifications facilitators can implement depending on their budgets, such as using CAD software in their design phase, and/or 3D printing in the build phase, as well as programme evaluations that participants and ambassadors can use to critique and improve the programme based on their experiences.

Major Conclusions and Recommendations
Based on all stakeholder feedback, we designed the Build your own city challenge to be open-ended, time-flexible, and low-cost to allow for the most widespread implementation. The programme puts students in simplified STEM professional roles and allows them to create and innovate in a challenge that mirrors a real-world problem that they would likely face if they chose a STEM career. If successful, the programme should allow students to leave the programme inspired about STEM careers and with the information they need to pursue a career in STEM.

We tested our programme preliminarily, but we recommend the future programme developers to test the programme fully before they distribute it for implementation. We have highlighted a list of recommendations for Young Crossrail and/or IStructE to carry out in regards to our programme, helping to ensure that the programme is continually improved and easily implemented. These recommendations will help to ensure the quality of the programme’s materials and implementation. Collaboration between Young Crossrail and IStructE is important to ensure a smooth transition when the Young Crossrail programme comes to an end and delivers its learning legacy for another similar project to learn. Our recommendations include piloting a full version of the programme, continuing to develop programmes for younger age groups, using technology and modelling software to supplement the programme, encouraging ambassadors to buy into a longer timeframe, and including art and philosophy in future programme development.