Teachers Inspire Ireland 20232024
TI Podcast Ep11

2022 Podcasts

DCU’s STEM Teacher Internship Programme (STInt) gives student teachers the opportunity to work in leading STEM companiesEpisode 11, Deirdre Butler and Niamh O’Malley

In this episode Louise hears about a unique programme that DCU offers student teachers at primary and secondary level. The STEM Teacher Internship Programme – known as (STInt) – provides 12-week paid summer internships in STEM roles.

Professor Deirdre Butler from the school of STEM Education, Innovation and Global Studies tells Louise the programme, “is actually globally unique.” She explains what makes it unique and outlines the positives for the student teachers, the students they go on to teach and how the STEM industries also benefit. Louise chats to primary school teacher Niamh O’Malley who has completed two STInt placements, in Microsoft and with ESB. Guests from the companies involved are often invited to visit classrooms. Niamh says it has helped break misconceptions about “female jobs and male jobs” and she said, “a big part of it is breaking those kinds of barriers and letting children know that they can be whatever they want.”

Click here to listen to the podcast

Hello, and welcome to the Teachers Inspire podcast. Organised and run by Dublin City University, Teachers Inspire is an Ireland wide initiative that seeks to celebrate teachers and to recognise the transformative role they play in our lives and in our communities.

My name is Louise O'Neill and I am delighted that I have been asked once again to curate, and share with you, the many uplifting stories about teachers who have made a difference in your life. Check out these stories and more on the website, Teachersinspire.ie

In this episode of Teachers Inspire we are going to look at DCU’s STEM Teacher Internship Programme (STInt)

The programme gives student teachers and early career STEM teachers at primary and secondary level, 12-week paid summer internships in STEM roles.

So now Professor Deirdre Butler from the school of STEM Education, Innovation and Global Studies joins me now. Hi, Deirdre. So there's quite a few teachers and parents, you know, they listen to the Teachers Inspire podcast, and you know, many of them might not have heard of the STInt programme. So, you know, what exactly is it? And what makes it different to other programmes that teachers or student teachers can avail of?

Yes, what's interesting about this programme is it's actually globally unique. And there isn't… we've done a research literature review at the moment and we've actually found that there isn't another programme like it in the world because what we're doing is we're actually partnering with industry over an extended period of time - 12 week - which is from let's say, roughly, May, June to July, August, during the penultimate, or final year of a student's career.

And what's most important is it's a paid internship, they actually are taking part not as sort of a bystander, but actually as an intern within the company. So they have very experienced roles, they have very worthwhile roles, they're engaged in project teams.

And the reason we're doing this is we really want to work together with industry, and everybody else, to actually shape as we call (it) our by lines or shaping shared futures, to inspire innovative learning, because traditionally an awful lot of teachers go from primary school to secondary school, into university and back to teaching, and a lot is expected of teachers and they're never given the opportunity to see what STEM industries look like and participate in real life, so this gives them that opportunity.

So we started in 2016. We actually had great support initially from Accenture and from the 30% Club, and then we extended with (by) Connecting Women in STEM, that group came on (and) Science Foundation Ireland began to fund us as well.

And myself and my colleague Eilish McLaughlin, we were the project leads and we actually now are working across five universities and we wish to extend it to the seventh Irish University so it will be nationwide.

What's particularly interesting is the fact that these teachers are involved in opportunities where they really see things at real life. And what really is important is, what people don't understand is that perhaps or appreciate is the fact that teachers can actually influence a child's life from very early on and could actually influence their career choices.

And by engaging in this sort of thing they understand that there are many different STEM roles and some they wouldn't even have thought of so they can encourage their students to go into it.

And for example, if we just have one secondary school teacher - over the lifetime of their career they can actually interact with 5,000 students, a primary school teacher 1,000.


So to date we've had 185 interns participate in this programme with 33 companies so we have impacted over 600.. the possibility of impacting over 600,000 students.

Wow. So like, if you were gonna say how do students benefit from their teachers taking part in STInt, I mean, this is what you would point to, is it?

Yes, in fact, sort of as students, they would benefit for the simple reason that students … the teachers now with this opportunity - we'd love to be able to have this opportunity for every teacher in Ireland - because we saw from our evaluations that of the people who participated, let's say last year, 93% of them were now very confident that they could begin to design a STEM learning experience based on a real world context.

Will you clarify that for me, Sorry, how do you mean?

So a real world context : they can connect the concepts and skills that they're teaching in school beyond the textbook to a real world.

Okay, gotcha.

So that they can actually hook it on to maybe the company they've been working but also because we've had over 30 companies work with us and we actually spend a long time trying to work with our students so they build up connections across each other, so we have the Alumni, and as well as that we actually work with their companies as well, we have sort of weekly and fortnightly check-ins with them, that they have access to not just the company they're already in, but the other companies too.

So when they go back to school, and they begin to teach as well, they could actually invite maybe somebody from the company in or maybe they can actually have a visit to the company.

So they can actually where let's say in Irish water, then maybe they can take their students out there or say Microsoft or Intel… because we work across the biopharma, the technology, the financial institutions.

So they have that real contract and connection in the industry. As well as that they then feel very competent to advise their students on STEM careers and they really believe, like over 90% of them believe that this student experience influenced how they're perceived stem industries and STEM careers, because there can be preconceptions on both sides as to what like industry is and what STEM is.

And then on the other side, there can be perceptions in industry of what teachers are.


and the feedback we've got from all our hosts is that they are really bright, really intelligent, creative, problem solvers, resilient and that they would actually employ them in the morning.

I was gonna say are you worried that you're going to lose some of your teachers?! [laughter]

No, no, the deal is, when we sign up with companies, is the fact that these students are in there for an immersive STEM experience. The companies realise that they really want to have this really impressive, they want to have this sort of STEM.. what they call the STEM pipeline.

I don't really like the analogy, but that's what they say, the STEM pipeline (and) that they will have creative, innovative problem solvers coming into their industry.

And they realise that to do that, they need to make sure that students understand what it's about.

And so, they realise that the teacher is more valuable in the classroom, doing what they do, rather than be working with them. So it's the ‘impact factor’ and it has really developed a respect as well between industry and the teaching profession.

Yeah. We're actually going to talk to Niamh O’Malley. She's a, she's a teacher and a STInt intern and she was one of the 180 primary school teachers who have taken part in the program.

So, she's a primary school teacher from Cavan. Now Niamh, you have done two of these internships - you're very eager [laughter]- I suppose.

I'd love to hear a little bit about your experience and then also, why did you do the second one , just one was not enough?!

[laughter from both]

Yes, of course. So my first internship, I partook in a STEM teacher internship in Microsoft in 2019 which was an in person internship as a software engineer.

And it was hugely impactful on my teaching and the opportunity arose to become a STEM teacher intern, again, as an in service teacher so I jumped at the chance. And I just thought I gained so much from the first experience in Microsoft.

And I said, I'd like to try out something a little bit different, so I was stationed with the ESB, it was a remote internship. They were both completely worthwhile experiences, completely different from one another and I got to meet so many different people.

I suppose it changed my own insights into the corporate world and into the different STEM careers possible for students. I got to know a lot of people and I know, Deirdre introduced it as a 12 week internship, but it definitely extends well beyond the 12 weeks because I have met so many different people from my 2019 internship that I still, and I still hound and that often do presentations in my class and come back to my schools. And so it's great. I think it's a fantastic opportunity. And I definitely think it will be worthwhile for every single teacher to do across the board.

And I suppose I mean, you mentioned there about, you know, having them come, or people from - I'm not sure if it was Microsoft or ESB - come into the classroom, to give presentation.

I suppose, that is the question like, you know, what are the benefits that you can see in the classroom from having done these internships?

Niamh: Yeah, well, definitely.. my students have visited Dreamspace, which is a Microsoft run initiative and many different software engineers during Engineers Week and Women in STEM week, I've got different presenters out from Microsoft into the classroom and I have a few lined up from the ESB.

But yeah, I think it can have such an impact on my own teaching but also on the students in terms of getting to ask and meet these people, ask them about their jobs.

And I suppose even breaking those misconceptions and those barriers that there are female jobs and male jobs and I think, I think it's a big a big part of it is breaking those kinds of barriers and letting children know that they can be whatever they want. They can be what they dream to be and encouraging them and I suppose one thing that I've taken from both of my internships was, to try and foster computational thinking and the 21st century skills in my students, like building up resilience and flexibility and trying to encourage them to be agents of their own learning and create a kind of a constructivist learning environment whereby there's not always one answer to every problem, that the problems solved through it (by) themselves.

And we go through the different ways and different answers people come up with to try and teach them.

Like, I think, something that stuck with me from my first internship in Microsoft was ‘tell me and I’ll forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I’ll understand’ and I think that's always stood with me, in that it's really important to involve students, to allow them to problem solve through things themselves.

Louise: Yeah, that's God, that's such a great way of looking at it. I'm gonna, I'm gonna remember that.

And I know what STInt that, like, I suppose one of its main objectives is to provide role models, you know, to inspire future generations of students.

And, you know, particularly as you mentioned, girls, and you know, others that might be socially or economically or educationally disadvantaged, so that they can feel that like STEM is a viable option as a career for them.

And I know Niamh that you have started a STEM, is it a STEM club, you started a STEM club in your school?

I am indeed.

So, I suppose is it trying to bring, you know, more girls in? Is it trying to bring people from like, you know, maybe underrepresented backgrounds? Trying to get them involved in the club as well?

Yes, it is, indeed. So, I'm actually currently employed in DEIS band one school. And I think it's really important to reach out to those children that might not have those sorts of role models in their lives and might not have an understanding of the different types of careers and opportunities out there.

And to ensure them that they are as capable to become whatever they'd like to be and whatever they dream, dream of when they grow up. So, I think I'm very fortunate that I had a couple of other teachers in my school that were willing to set up a STEM club with me. So we actually started today!

Today, oh my God, this is perfect timing to be speaking to you on the birth of your stem club!

[laughter from both]

I know and it's mad, like, it's crazy when I'm in an all-boys school, and it's crazy when boys don't want to go home! [laughter] and they, they want to stay, they want to stay on and they're asking can we stay for another half an hour?

And I'm like ‘no actually I have to do a podcast!’

I have a life too!

Yeah, and another school has reached out as well, another local school. And I'm going to start up a STEM club there. So hopefully, it'll go from strength to strength, and I might try to train up a couple of the teachers in the local area so that we can, we can get it up and running and more schools around because I think it is such a great opportunity. And there's fantastic ambassadors out there.

And I think this program is just, it's just the pinnacle of, of what we're looking for going forward. Because like the world is changing the skills that are needed, are changing and evolving with the technological era that we live in and we have to foster these sorts of skills in the students we teach, they need to be flexible because jobs are changing, the world, like a lot of the jobs that may be in the future, might not have been created or invented yet. Yes.

Deirdre when you're listening to Niamh speak there, I presume that you, you agree with everything that she's saying?

Oh, yes. And Niamh, is just one example of the many interns we've had; no matter who you'd have here, you'd have a similar story.

We've actually seen with our students that have come to this programme, (is) the fact that they are now more actively participating in sort of things like SciFest, the BT Young Scientist, they're actually more able to speak up and say, ‘well, I know that there is a grant for that,’ (so) if the equipment isn't there, they go get it.


I can talk to you about many students who have done that. And even as some of them said, ‘I now feel more equipped to advise my students of varying careers’, or ‘I've seen firsthand what a job in technology involves.’

And they've learned - and this is really important - that they've learned that it's creativity and passion and problem solving that are the key attributes in a STEM role.

And, like everything in life, that it's that, they're the things, and the resilience, will actually get you to make a change in the world.

And I think each of them will bring that back to the classroom, that they become the sort of.. the key changers.

And like, it's more than just visiting classrooms, okay, it's great to have places to visit and people to actually have you visit in the classroom.

But they're once off events, what's really important is that the teacher is there and that they can actually keep that going over time, that it's not a novelty, but it's something that's being reinforced each day with the students.

And I think that's the power, because everybody knows me, they've probably heard this- in the fact that when I qualified as a teacher, many moons ago, because I qualified the primary school teacher as well from St. Pat's, she gave me a plaque that said, ‘to teach is to touch your life forever.’

And I think that's what's really, really important, that if you invest in our teachers, you're actually investing in the future of what we can become.

And you can actually build up that belief across everybody that you actually touch and actually interact with in school.

That you can be the change you want to see in the world, that it's not just certain people (who) do it.

We actually had another sort of, another project here as well. You know, run again with somebody's as well with the STEM internship, and they talked about, giving that - it was great to see the kids being able to talk about - I sent a letter about my, because they were working on putting in their area, about how they could actually design different things in a park, etc. and this was in a sort of a really under deprived area - and they were saying, I did, I was able to write to the local politician, ‘we did all our things and we did the survey.’

So they feel they have a power, and they can actually act.

But that is that only comes from having somebody in the classroom who has been, let's say, to the other side, who sees that this is how you get things done. And we would love for all teachers to be able to do this, but it will need sort of ongoing investment and development etc.

Yeah, well, it sounds like the work that you're doing in DCU is just incredible. And I loved what you said there about, you know, by being a teacher and you know, touching the lives of children, because, you know, that's why that's why we're here.

That's why we're doing you know, the Teachers Inspire initiative and why we're doing the podcast. So Deirdre and Niamh, thank you both so much for joining me today.

you are welcome.

thank you Louise, a great opportunity.

I'm Louise O'Neill. And thank you for joining me for this episode of the Teachers Inspire Ireland podcast. You can hear all of the episodes wherever you get your podcasts, and you can find out more at teachersinspire.ie.

Until the next time..

Stories of inspirational teachers