RARE  RISINGSTARS - The UK’s Top 10 Black Students
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No. 8

 

JESSICA OKORO

Pharmaceutical and Cosmetic Sciences
De Montfort University
Charity

JESSICA OKORO
Considering Jessica’s achievements in the world of science, it is hard to believe that she was at one point considered ‘bad’ at the sciences. Jessica grew up in Enfield with her mother and brothers in a single parent home. During secondary school, she was in the frustrating position of being extremely interested in the sciences yet struggling to get good grades in them. She felt unsupported by her teachers, who told her that she was simply not gifted in these subjects. After being predicted an E for GCSE Maths, she knew that she needed to do something to improve her academic prospects. She decided that if she wanted to do well, she would simply have to find a way of making these subjects accessible to her. And she did: at home, she created projects and approached problems from different angles to break down hard modules. As the topics increasingly began to make sense, she realised that she was not untalented but simply learnt in a different way to her peers. She achieved an A* in Maths, along with 5As and 5Bs.

“I realised that it wasn’t about being born with the ‘smart gene’ or being naturally good or bad at a subject.

She began to realise how necessary it was to figure out individual styles of learning through innovative and creative styles of teaching and having someone patient enough to teach. That is what she has set out to provide to children with BeScience STEM, her company through which she designs and delivers entertaining science workshops.

Once she got to De Montfort, she contacted various institutions to secure financial support to develop her idea. Potential sponsors were cynical, deeming her proposal unrealistic and too ambitious. Jessica, however, did not take no for an answer. Instead, she funded the project herself by taking part in clinical medical trials.

In just over two years, BeScience STEM has reached thousands of young people through mentoring workshops and library sessions. Jessica has gone on to found Creative KidsLAB and Library Labs. Through the former, she runs pop‑up laboratories where she and her network of 200 volunteers teach fun experiments to children. At her first pop‑up lab in Leicester Highcross Shopping Centre, over 800 children turned up. In February, she held a pop‑up lab at a BBC Radio Station Centre sponsored by the Institute of Engineering and Technology, where she and her volunteers taught children about how different surface areas on crisps affect taste. Other sponsors include De Montfort University, the Prince’s Trust and the O2. Most recently, she gave a motivational training session to over 30 members of the Santander team. They are now in the process of planning a joint event at the Santander London headquarters where Jessica and her team will teach STEM experiments to 60 primary school children from two schools.

She founded Library Labs in August 2015. Library Labs are open workshops that Jessica holds in libraries in underprivileged areas for 40‑60 primary school students and their families. She not only wants to get the children excited by STEM, but show their parents and guardians that they do not need to be involved in the STEM industry to get their children involved. She wants to foster a love of science from a young age and increase exposure to the science sphere for young BME women.

“For me, STEM has been like my Narnia, where I’ve been able to prove to myself how capable I am.

Academically, Jessica still struggles with conventional teaching methods at university and, having recently been diagnosed with dyslexia, BeScience STEM has also been important for her to find her own confidence through science.

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