The STIMULUS programme, which places hundreds of Cambridge students as volunteer helpers in local schools, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.
STIMULUS is a community service programme which creates placements for Cambridge University student volunteers in local primary and secondary schools and sixth form colleges, helping with Maths, Science, ICT or Technology lessons. STIMULUS students work as volunteer teaching assistants in the classroom, alongside the class teacher.
The programme has grown enormously since its early days. Set up in 1987 by Mrs Toni Beardon, who was later awarded an OBE for services to mathematics education, it had just two students in the first term. By the following academic year, that number had grown to 20. Last school year (2011/12) STIMULUS, which for the past 12 years has been co-ordinated by the Millennium Mathematics Project, created 245 placements for University of Cambridge student volunteers at 18 primary schools, 10 secondary schools, three sixth-form colleges, and one special school within the city of Cambridge.
STIMULUS volunteers are recruited from a wide range of disciplines: the majority are studying Mathematics, Engineering, Natural Sciences (Biology, Chemistry or Physics), Medicine, Computer Science, Chemical Engineering or Economics. Each STIMULUS placement involves a time commitment by the volunteer of one afternoon each week for the duration of a university term. The STIMULUS programme therefore facilitates the donation of more than 4,000 hours each year of university student volunteer time to local schools.
For schools, a STIMULUS volunteer not only offers useful extra help to teachers but also a positive and enthusiastic role-model for pupils. For the university student volunteers, STIMULUS develops leadership, communication and interpersonal skills, as well as an opportunity to give something back to the local community. A key aim of the programme is also to encourage volunteers to consider teaching as a possible career, giving a chance to experience classroom teaching before making career choices, and each year a number of final-year volunteers go on to study for a PGCE or be accepted on the Teach First scheme after graduating.