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Johnian magazine issue 47, spring 2021

Generating Genius

Written by Victoria Harvey (2011)

3 min read

Thanks to a generous Johnian donation, this year marks the start of an exciting collaboration between St John’s and Generating Genius. Head of Admissions Victoria Harvey introduces the scheme.

Generating Genius is a charity that works with Black African and Caribbean year 12 pupils who want to progress to STEM subjects at university.

Victoria Harvey

The charity’s ethos speaks very much to our College’s outreach strategy. We seek to offer high performing groups multiple engagements at crucial moments to add academic value and application guidance.

Almost 70 pupils from state schools in London who achieved highly in their GCSEs attended the launch event in November, where I thoroughly enjoyed welcoming the pupils to the programme and encouraged them to ask as many questions as they could think of. This backfired slightly as I was only able to progress through about 10% of my presentation, but the atmosphere (even on Zoom) was exciting and filled with potential.

Since that welcome, the students have met with Gaia Lambert, our Schools Liaison and Access Officer, to learn how they can make competitive applications to universities and what to consider when selecting courses.

Gaia runs various workshops including super curricular activities, independent study skills and information and guidance sessions for potential applicants.

We both benefited from and enjoyed our time at Cambridge, so we were keen to support a programme that broadens access to the University and to St John’s. There is an urgent need to support Black and BME students into STEM subjects and industries, and Generating Genius has a great track record in this area.

Nick and Hilary Studer, donors

Next in the series of events were the February workshops, which gave pupils a chance to explore their chosen fields through a mathematical or biological science route. Once split into the two streams, each group received two sessions from different subjects.

All of the Mathematical Science students received a mathematics lesson from St John’s Fellow Dr Matthias Doerrzapf, while the Biological Science students participated in a medicine lesson, followed by a session with one other subject area (Computer Science, Engineering and Physical or Biological Natural Sciences). The day also included discussions of how to explore their subjects outside of school and how to harness this for their university applications.

There are several aims to these sessions: we hope to give the students a real sense of what the subject is like at university level, we hope to teach them something they might not have covered in their current curriculums, and we offer them the opportunity to talk with the Director of Studies, who has some current students on the call to give them subject-specific information and guidance about Cambridge specifically.

Perhaps, however, the most important outcome of these sessions is to give a taste of subjects that are not currently being considered. We find that many students, and particularly those from more disadvantaged backgrounds, tend to apply to vocational subjects like Medicine, or to those with an obvious career outcome like Engineering.

I’m really excited to be a part of the STEM@Cambridge programme. It is an excellent opportunity for me to learn more about the degree choices that Cambridge University offer that are STEM related. The programme will also help me tailor my university applications and prepare for interviews.

Nene Obiajuru

We need to raise awareness about the career opportunities that are manifestly open to graduates of Natural Sciences and other degrees. In future years I would like to include a session for parents and advisors in these programmes so that this message reaches home as well as the students.

In addition to these fundamentally important academic sessions, the pupils have the opportunity to talk with some of our current science students who can enthuse them further with first-hand insights about life at St John’s.

It is sadly often the case that my advice in many areas has become rather irrelevant: when I suggest more reading, they talk YouTube; when I suggest Facebook, they talk Tik Tok; when I suggest preparatory reading they say rest!

Current students are simply more relevant and in touch, and they better understand what is preoccupying school pupils. Their help is always forthcoming, so we can always rely on some good support at our workshops.

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Victoria Harvey started work as a windsurfer, but following a car accident she went to university and completed an undergraduate degree at Exeter, a Master’s at Oxford and a PhD at Cambridge. She worked as the Schools Liaison Officer for Robinson College and Trinity Hall, then progressed to a Fellowship at Lucy Cavendish as their Admissions Director. In 2020 she joined St John’s as Tutor for Undergraduate Admissions. Victoria’s academic interests are sixteenth-century French literature and visual culture, and she continues her research alongside her role in Admissions.