New STEM coordinators to support learning in Caithness, Sutherland and Orkney


Primary teachers across Caithness, Sutherland and Orkney can look forward to specialist support in teaching the vital STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and maths – thanks to two new full-time STEM outreach coordinators who have joined the University of Highlands and Islands (UHI).

Mara Gibb and Ria Kirkpatrick are part of a team of ten new coordinators based at campuses across the UHI partnership, each recruited to promote STEM careers to primary school children across the north of Scotland.

The new roles are being supported by £900,000 of funding provided by offshore wind developers through an initiative announced in January, led by the West of Orkney Windfarm alongside Buchan Offshore Wind, Ossian and Thistle Wind Partners.

Mara Gibb, who grew up in the north, has just started her full-time role with the UHI North, West and Hebrides team, having recently graduated from Heriot Watt with a Masters in Chemical Engineering; whilst Ria Kirkpatrick, who lives in Stromness, has recently started her full-time role with the UHI Orkney team, following 18 years as a primary teacher, with the last ten years spent teaching primary 1 and 2.

Mara has already worked locally, in the battery innovation and production industry, as well in the brewing industry.  

“I spent two summers at AMTE Power based in Thurso, working in the lab for the formation process of battery production,” Mara says. “Whilst during my time as an assistant brewer, I had a hands-on role in producing different types of beer, as well as working on the more customer facing side in the visitor centre. It was a role that really allowed me to reconnect with home and the community.

“I love travelling and all things outdoorsy, from paddleboarding to running. I’m also ahuge fan of the Scottish trad music scene, and love going to live music events. Having grown up in the region, I am excited to expand the opportunities available for young learners, and to inspire them to think about career paths they may not have even realised were an option.”

Ria says: “I have loved being a primary teacher but would like to experience a different way of working and this role seems ideal.

“In recent years I have been working with colleagues to implement a play-based curriculum in class and have found that this works particularly well with STEM activities. This new role gives me the opportunity to work with children and visit schools and plan to help staff feel more confident about delivering STEM education, without adding to their workload. I am really looking forward to it!”

Over the last six years, UHI has delivered a STEM outreach programme to early years settings and primary schools across the Highland Council area, providing materials and training to teachers to build their confidence and knowledge in subjects they may not be familiar with.

UHI has now been able to extend its outreach programme to schools in Orkney, the Western Isles, Shetland, Argyll and Bute, Moray and Perthshire local authority areas thanks to the £900,000 of funding provided by the offshore wind developers each of which are developing projects awarded in the Crown Estate Scotland’s ScotWind leasing round.

This has supported the employment of eight part-time and two full-time STEM coordinators. Both Ria and Mara’s full-time roles have been supported through additional, targeted support from the West of Orkney Windfarm.

Mike Hay, Deputy Project Director at West of Orkney Windfarm, the lead developer in the initiative, said:

“We are delighted that Ria and Mara have joined the UHI STEM outreach programme.  It’s vital that we invest in the next generation and offshore wind offers the prospect of rewarding careers for children in primary school today. By supporting this programme, we hope as many of these jobs as possible are secured by young people who live in the communities in which we operate.

“We’re particularly delighted to be funding directly the two full-time positions in Caithness, Sutherland and Orkney as part of our overall contribution. Our sponsorship is an important first step in a wider multi-million pound project-level investment initiative which the West of Orkney Windfarm, supported by its shareholders, TotalEnergies, Corio Generation and RIDG, has committed to support skills development and the offshore wind supply chain.”

Alison Wilson, Director of Advancement and Alumni Engagement at UHI, said:

 “We are so excited to welcome Mara and Ria to our STEM outreach team. Their appointment and those of our other coordinators have been made possible thanks to the generous support of our offshore wind partners. Their funding is the largest package of corporate giving UHI has received and we are hugely grateful for their support.

“The ScotWind development provides fantastic possibilities for people in our regions to contribute to the green economy. We want to ensure that every young person in our communities has the chance to be inspired by these opportunities, to pursue their studies and to develop skills to achieve careers in the sector. It is through initiatives like this, where industry and academia work together, that we can make a tangible difference to our communities and the choices available to our young people now and in the future.”

During the three-year programme, the STEM coordinators will work with UHI partners, schools and teachers to deliver lesson plans and equipment, including ‘Lend a Lab’ boxes, to support a range of topics, all aligned with the Curriculum for Excellence. They will also work with other agencies involved in STEM outreach to consider local needs and seek new partners and additional funding to ensure the STEM development programme can be sustainable over the longer term.


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