School pupils honoured at awards event in the Planetarium

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A prize-giving ceremony took place in the Planetarium on Wednesday 23 June for the winners of a county-wide essay writing competition to raise awareness among young black girls of STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects and careers. The competition, run by the Nigerian Community in Hampshire (NCH), saw primary and secondary school aged girls set an essay topic which they were then encouraged to research and write about.

Set up in 2020 by civil engineer, Winchester Science Centre STEM Ambassador and NCH member, Melinda Odum, the competition was designed as a way for girls to express themselves and their love of science. All the winners, plus some of those from the 2020 competition who missed out on celebrating due to COVID-19, were invited to a celebration event at the Science Centre. With a mission to spark curiosity in STEM in everyone, the Science Centre was the perfect location partner for the event. The winners were treated to a journey through the stars in the UK’s largest standalone Planetarium as well as a prize giving ceremony. 

Melinda Odum, said: “It’s been such a joy to read the essays submitted by the young girls of the Nigerian Community in Hampshire. The aim of the competition was to promote aspiration in STEM amongst children of Nigerian heritage, particularly girls, and it’s truly inspiring to see this coming through in the essays.”

Primary aged entrants, those aged 5 to 10 years, were given the topic ‘Why I love science’ as an essay title. The secondary aged entrants, those aged 11 years an older, had a topic centred around climate change to coincide with the UK hosting the UN Climate Change conference (COP26) later this year. With the title ‘Together for our planet: What does climate change mean for me? What can I do about it?’, the girls were encouraged to think like a STEM professional, research and come up with a  response. 

The Nigerian Community in Hampshire (NCH) is formed of over 200 members across the county, working in a diverse range of professions and industries. They winners were joined by Stella Ogboi, the current NCH chairperson, and Abisola Badejo, who will be appearing later this year on TV as Raye Montague in a documentary of her life. The girls were given copies of the book “The Girl with a Mind for Math The Story of Ray Montague” as prizes alongside cash prizes, trophies and certificates.  Montague was an engineering mastermind who overcame racism and sexism to transform ship design – a story that it is hoped will inspire young black girls like the competition winners.