Pilot project becomes a role model for Europe: 15 years of zdi network IST.Bochum

The first network of the community offensive "Future through Innovation.NRW" (zdi.NRW) celebrated its 15th anniversary. The anniversary of the pilot project "IST.Bochum" was honored several times: On the founding day, a team of lecturers at the Amtmann-Kreyenfeld-School, a primary school in the Werne district of Bochum, taught the children about the topics with the "mobile energy academy". Bringing electricity and renewable energy closer together. At another appointment, Klaus Kaiser, Parliamentary State Secretary of the Ministry of Culture and Science of North Rhine-Westphalia, congratulated the winner. He met Katharina Leitmann, a former participant of zdi offers and current lecturer, to talk about STEM funding in Bochum and NRW. And he had the student Judith explain the energy experiments to him.

Judith looks at the LEDs with concentration. It closes the circuit - the diode lights up. She opens it again – the light goes out. The glow in her eyes remains. Together with a lecturer from the zdi network IST.Bochum, the student dives into the world of electricity and renewable energies with an experiment kit from the municipal utility. Klaus Kaiser lets his curiosity be infected - and talks to Judith and Katharina Leitmann about Morse code. This is MINT to touch and try out. 

Klaus Kaiser with Katharina Leitmann and student Judith.

MINT is – everywhere – is MINT

15 years ago, the NRW state government started the pilot project in Bochum to set up a regional MINT network. Since then, schools, universities, companies and public partners have been working there together to get young people excited about STEM subjects and to offer them spaces for research. MINT stands for mathematics, computer science, natural sciences and technology - exactly the subjects that are relevant for all future issues and social challenges. Climate change, corona pandemic, sustainability - nothing works without STEM knowledge. STEM is everywhere and STEM is everywhere. An important finding for young people who are looking for a career and are asking what they want to be when they grow up.

On the occasion of the anniversary, the parliamentary state secretary responsible for zdi in the Ministry of Culture and Science of North Rhine-Westphalia, Klaus Kaiser, met the student Katharina Leitmann, who had taken part in the network’s zdi courses as a student – ​​and today, as a physicist, teaches such courses herself. "In the past 15 years, a lot has happened in terms of extracurricular MINT support in NRW," said Kaiser. "A strong, state-wide zdi community has emerged from numerous regional projects that worked independently of each other." After the successful pilot phase of the first zdi network, the state government created structures with the actors, launched funding programs and a regional and state-wide Exchange initiated. There are now 47 regional zdi networks and over 70 zdi student laboratories in NRW, in which over 4.500 partners are active. This makes zdi the largest MINT network in Europe.

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Science is made tangible

It is very important to Kaiser that young people can participate in the design of the offers. “Children and young people know best which topics interest them and where they would like to delve deeper. With our MINT community platform and the zdi youth advisory board, we explicitly involve the target group in the development of courses provide scientific tools. "Research and science become tangible for young people who can experiment with fun and joy."

Katharina Leitmann remembers how formative it was for her as a schoolgirl not only to come into contact with current scientific findings via the zdi offers, but also to be able to help think about and decide where and how these are used. “In the zdi courses we were able to try things out in a protected space and gain initial experience with science and technology. It encouraged me to continue learning and working in this field. I now want to pass on these experiences and, above all, encourage many more girls to deal with these exciting topics.”

Kaiser and Leitmann agree that the last few months have shown how much MINT shapes our everyday lives. The current pandemic situation, but also climate change and sustainability are topics that particularly concern young people and for which a good basic understanding of MINT is essential.

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