Team Spotlight: Claire Willis
Explain your background and how you got to work in STEM.
Having gained a degree in Biology and leaving University I started my career on the entertainments team at the now Blue Reef aquarium. This role then led onto a fish husbandry position with responsibility for the day to day running of the centre, delivery of the education programme and design and installation of the temporary exhibition space. After 4 years I left there to become the Education Manager for the Centre for Life. Again after 4 years, I left to set up my own science consultancy business and had this for 6 years. I then moved to Science Learning Centre North East to become their STEM Outreach Coordinator, leaving there to revive my own business again which included designing and delivering a series of workshops for the Sultan of Oman and his Botanic Gardens project. Although I was due to go into teaching in September 2019, a 6-month maternity cover came up within the STEM team at RTC North and I have been here ever since!
What are the key responsibilities in your role?
My role is quite varied working alongside colleagues to deliver against the regional skills agenda, partnering with industry, education and regional stakeholders to ensure that the young people in our region are aware of the career opportunities that are open to them in STEM. As well as supporting industry in delivering against their social value agenda. I tend to take the lead on the major STEM events that the team deliver including STEMFest in Space (2020 and 2021) and STEMFest Net Zero (2022).
I also have responsibility for investigating other commercial opportunities that are open to the hub either through working alongside regional stakeholders and/or aligning ourselves more closely with the needs of local employers, particularly in the growth sectors of our region.
Describe a typical day.
There is never a typical day in the STEM team!
I am currently working on an Innovation Challenge on behalf of STEM Learning and UKRI which is a regional pilot looking to raise awareness of entrepreneurship with secondary school pupils. Some of my time is spent reacting to bespoke requests from external organisations which could result in additional programme delivery. I have meetings with companies mainly online to discuss their STEM needs in particular in relation to their social value offer and how the hub might be able to support with this. I have also started planning for our STEMFest event in July 2023 and pulling together a sponsorship document to use with potential sponsors.
What would you say are the most challenging aspects of your role?
Although I do like the variety of tasks that come my way, this can often be quite challenging as in a day I might go from writing a sponsorship document to collating dietary requirements of guests at one of our events to then speaking at a national conference!
I also think school/teacher buy-in for some of our programmes can be very challenging, even though we have such a good offer for every school and pupil in our region.
What are you most proud of in your job?
I enjoy knowing that we are making a real difference to the lives of young people in our region. It is also very rewarding to know that STEM Learning regard us as a high performing hub and often ask for our input with some of their new initiatives.
What is one truth that would surprise your colleagues about you?
I was a qualified BDMLR (British Divers Marine Life Rescue) marine mammal medic and would often be called out by the coastguard to assist in rescuing anything from a stranded pilot whale to many common and grey seals from around the North East coast.