Outreach residentials return to Catz

Monday 3 October 2022


St Catharine’s has a track record of hosting residential programmes over the summer vacation, which give young people the opportunity to experience College life for themselves. This forms an important part of the College’s varied programme of outreach activities that enable us to attract the most talented students, regardless of background. All these activities are free for participants, thanks to generous donations from alumni and friends of the College.

After two years of disruption due to COVID-19 restrictions, the College was delighted to welcome three residential programmes this summer, all of which were free-of-charge to participants. Read on to find out about the residential outreach programmes this summer and how we plan to continue to build on this success in the coming year.

The Gurdon Institute’s Aspiring Scientists Training Programme (ASTP) | 11–15 July 2022

The Gurdon Institute is a research facility at the University of Cambridge, specialising in developmental biology and cancer biology. The Institute’s ASTP is designed to give A-level biology students a chance to experience what a career as a biologist entails, from bespoke workshops with experts in the sector, to networking opportunities with scientists, and the chance to explore life at a world-renowned research university.

This programme is for students aged 16+ in state (non-fee paying) schools, who are currently pursuing A-level or IB qualifications in biology (or equivalent) and who are interested in higher education or a career in science.

In July, a group of 11 students participating in the programme stayed with us. Liza Zhabina, Schools Liaison & Outreach Officer at St Catharine’s, worked closely with the Gurdon’s organisers: Natalie Walls (Public Engagement Coordinator) and Hélène Doerflinger (Public Engagement Manager). Liza also gave a talk on life as a student and the application process.

Some of the participants shared positive feedback on how Liza’s talk encouraged them to consider applying:

“What I found interesting about the talk Liza gave was that she made clear that her application to Cambridge wasn't perfect and out of this world. She simply explained how in her interview she demonstrated her passion for Natural Sciences. That made me feel much more confident about applying to Oxbridge.”

“I feel that all she said was equally interesting and important. In this presentation she answered absolutely every question that I had when thinking about applying to Cambridge.”

“The talk Liza gave was very helpful and boosted my confidence in making an application to Cambridge in Year 13. What stuck out to me the most is the fact that Cambridge had no GCSE requirements, and GCSEs will be looked at in the context in which they were achieved. I didn't do too well at GCSE (compared to the average Oxbridge applicant) due to personal circumstances and total lack of support from my school, so I was very concerned about this and thought me making an application to Oxford/Cambridge would be ridiculous. But now I think it would be good for me to work extremely hard at what's in my control at the moment, with the amazing support I now have and give the application a shot!”

Universify Education Residential | 8–13 August 2022

Universify Education is a charity committed to tackling educational inequality, with a vision to opening up universities to anyone with academic potential, regardless of their background. It offers a year-long programme to equip Year 11 students from non-selective state schools with the grades, aspirations and knowledge to successfully apply to high-selective universities.

The summer residential introduces participants to life as an undergraduate at a highly-selective university, where they meet their Universify coach – who provides ongoing, remote, monthly support throughout the programme. This year, St Catharine’s welcomed 22 Year 12 students at the start of their Universify Education experience. Two of these students provided insights into their time at St Catharine’s:

“This week has taught me so much about how going to a university can be accessible for everyone and the chance is there if I want it. Also learning from the volunteers and other students helped the course to be a welcoming environment and something I would 100% do again”

“My time in the summer course was extremely useful to me as it helped me to understand previous misconceptions about life at university. Now I can make a more informed choice about what I want during my university experience in the future.”

STEMSMART Residential | 22–25 August 2022

STEM SMART (Subject Mastery and Attainment Raising Tuition) is a widening participation initiative from the University of Cambridge in association with Isaac Physics, to provide free, complementary teaching and support to UK (non-fee paying) students who:

  • have either experienced educational disadvantage or belong to a group that is statistically less likely to progress to higher education and
  • are considering applying to Engineering, Physical Sciences (eg physics, chemistry, earth sciences, materials science) or Biological Sciences (eg plant sciences, pharmacology, physiology, evolution and behaviour, biochemistry) courses at university and are studying A Levels (or equivalent) in maths and science.

The free programme spans 17 months and supports students in raising their attainment at school and developing their confidence to apply to study physical or biological sciences or engineering at top universities.

STEMSMART residential participants at St Catharine's College
STEMSMART residential participants at St Catharine's

In August, more than 300 STEM SMART participants spent time in Cambridge, staying at Colleges and learning in University departments, including a group of 15 participants who stayed at St Catharine’s. The four-day residential gave them the opportunity to work in University labs, building on skills they had learned online over the previous months, and experience life as a Cambridge student. They also received advice and guidance on applying to Cambridge – and other top universities – including preparing for admissions assessments and interviews.

Bridget Eburne, a second-year Natural Sciences undergraduate, commented:

“Being a STEMSMART mentor has been a very rewarding and enjoyable experience. It was lovely to get to know the students through our fortnightly online meetings and being an ambassador on the recent residential at Catz was great fun as I got to finally meet them in person! The students were all clearly very dedicated and conscientious throughout the programme, so it was a privilege to help them on their journey through A Levels and beyond!”

Building on these successful partnerships

St Catharine’s is fortunate to be able to employ two full-time members of staff to support our work with schools and outreach partners, thanks to a significant gift from the Paquita Filby Trust established by alumnus Ian Filby (1978, Natural Sciences) and his wife Sue.

Since September, Thomas Williams has been working alongside Liza in his role as External Partnerships & Outreach Officer. Thomas recently graduated from Jesus College, Cambridge, where he was involved with their outreach and widening participation efforts as a student ambassador. He explains:

“I grew up in rural County Durham, an area where university progression rates are low and Oxbridge seemed far more like a myth than reality. I know from my own experience how ingrained some stereotypes and fears about coming to study at Oxbridge can be and I’m really excited by the excellent outreach work Catz is doing to overcome these barriers to applying. I’m looking forward to working with Liza and our enthusiastic student ambassadors to support upcoming visits to schools as well as welcoming school students to the College. Together, I’m sure we can continue the positive change that is already underway.”

Thomas Williams
Thomas Williams, the College's new External Partnerships & Outreach Officer