Third year mechanical engineering student Yashas Raj has won the Outstanding Contribution category in this year’s Student Awards.
Yashas won the Award for his work founding and leading STEM outreach student society Hands-On! after being nominated by fellow students in the Edinburgh University Students Association Awards.
Yashas founded Hands-On! in autumn 2021 to empower University of Edinburgh students to inspire the next generation to pursue STEM degrees through fun, interactive workshops. A key objective, in his words, has been to make these subjects “more accessible and less intimidating”.
The mechanical engineering student said, “Accessibility and intimidation are both hallmark reasons why many students get discouraged from pursuing such degrees, and I hope that this outreach society will help empower children regardless of gender, race, and socioeconomic status.”
He also hopes that the society will enable more Edinburgh students to discover the rewards of outreach volunteering during their time at the University, and even consider going into education careers themselves.
Yashas added, “Teaching and mentorship can be one of the most fulfilling volunteering experiences and this is an opportunity for university students to give back to the local Edinburgh community.”
Yashas started the society in part because of the importance he attributes to the engineering outreach workshops he attended as a young student in Boston, USA, which inspired him to pursue the subject at a higher level.
After these experiences, he became involved in teaching STEM workshops around the world, from the USA to Spain, Italy, India, Hong Kong, and China, saying that these experiences “greatly impacted my aspirations to pursue a career in academia as a professor”.
Over the past semester, Yashas has led a collaboration with the University’s Widening Participation team to offer STEM mentorship to disadvantaged students in the Craigmillar area through the IntoUniversity program.
This involves running regular sessions to teach students aged 15-17 important study skills, and mentor them to consider applying to university – particularly where they may not previously have been on a path to higher education.
What next for the society? Yashas hopes to make it into “a large interdisciplinary initiative between several schools to form an inclusive community focused around learning and making things!”
Commenting on the award, Yashas said “Honestly it was quite surreal and I was definitely not expecting to win let along be nominated for the Outstanding Contribution category.
“However, I am grateful for this honour and I hope that this will enable me to grow the visibility of STEM outreach at the University and further empower Edinburgh students to give back to the local community through the design and facilitation of hands-on activities.”
"I would like to acknowledge the contacts that have assisted me so far and who have pledged to continue to support this society in the future.
"The first being Dr Andrew Firth, the School of Engineering Outreach Coordinator, who has been an incredible supporter and advisor for this society and for me. He has personally dedicated his time and resources to helping spread the word and has been a wonderful advocate for this society in the School.
“I would also like to acknowledge the support of Mike Boyd, the manager of UCreate Studio, who has also been a strong supporter, allowing us to use their equipment, material and space for weekly meetings, storage as well as advertising through social media on our behalf."