Opportunities for inspiration
Many geographers can trace the moment they were inspired to learn more about the world to the day they began their first field trip. For some young people, however, opportunities to get out and experience the world are limited. The Society’s Learning & Leading programme has been developed to target the students who, with some support, stand to benefit most from the eye-opening experience of fieldwork and research
‘I had never been abroad before, and I wanted to experience the environments that, until now, I had only read about in textbooks,’ says Ricky Stevens, a third-year geography undergraduate at Queen Mary, University of London.
After leaving school at 16, Ricky took a full-time job in retail, but he was keen to get back into education, so embarked on five years of study to achieve the Access to Higher Education qualification he needed to get himself on track for a degree. Last year, with the help of the Society’s Learning & Leading programme, Ricky was able to join his academic mentor, Dr Simon Carr, on a field research trip to Iceland.
‘Ricky had limited opportunities to participate in fieldwork or to experience any sort of wilderness environment first-hand,’ Simon explains. ‘He had worked hard to get himself into university, and now he just needed a little extra help to get himself out to see the world he’s so passionate about.’
Ricky travelled to Iceland for three weeks with Simon during his first summer break at university to service and construct automated weather stations. He was spellbound by Iceland’s famously rugged and varied landscape. ‘Stepping over meltwater channels, witnessing glacial debris, moulins and moraines, and learning where and when not to travel on a glacier – I was able to ask questions and understand so much more about what was happening on and off the glacier,’ he says.
Steve Brace, the Society’s head of education, believes that the role of fieldwork as part of a young person’s education is invaluable. ‘It’s so important that the Society is able to reach out to some of those young people who, for a variety of reasons, could not contemplate travelling overseas either during a gap year or during their time at university,’ he says. ‘The confidence that a young person can develop, whether they are away for a few weeks or several months, can bring a whole new aspect to their academic studies. It brings the subject to life and that’s something that can inspire a lifelong passion for learning.’
This year, the Society is offering five fieldwork apprenticeships to first-year undergraduates. It’s also awarding 12 gap-year scholarships to A-level students who wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to take a meaningful gap year before they start a degree in geography.
The recipients will be supported with advice, mentoring and training from the Society. The Learning & Leading programme also offers two free weekend field courses for teachers working in schools that face challenges in their provision of geography, and a residential summer school for A-level students.
‘I returned home from the trip feeling like a brand-new person, more confident and finally believing in myself,’ Ricky says. ‘This feeling of knowing I can achieve things is something that I have taken back from Iceland. I saw a way of life in Iceland – teaching glaciology and helping to develop students both academically and socially – that made me think: “This is what I would like to do”.’ This summer, Ricky returned to Iceland to carry out independent research after receiving an RGS-IBG Geographical Fieldwork Grant. Utilising the skills learned during his fieldwork apprenticeship, Ricky led a team of three undergraduates from Queen Mary, University of
London conducting research on glacier activity ■ For more information, visit www.rgs.org/learning&leading
■ For further details of our work with schools, visit www.rgs.org/schools
Geography student Ricky Stevens embarked on a field trip to Iceland with the help of the Society’s Learning & Leading programme
Join the SOCIETY get the MAGAZINE
The Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) promotes enjoyment and understanding of our world. Membership is open to all. You may use geography in your profession, have a thirst for geographical knowledge or a passion for travel. Geographical is the Society’s magazine and is available as part of membership. To find out more, call the Membership O ce on 020 7591 3080
22 www.geographical.co.uk DECEMBER 2010