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Season six, episode eighteen of the entertainment programme The Big Bang Theory saw popular character Sheldon Cooper and friends Howard Wolowitz and Leonard Hofstadter visit a school to encourage more women to pursue a career in Science. Within the episode, Sheldon realises that they may not be the right candidates to inspire the class of female students.
“Uh, hello again. Um, yeah, I don’t know if women in general have been actively discouraged from pursuing the sciences, but it’s clear you young women here, today, have been. While I was listening to my colleagues waste your time, it occurred to me that it might be much more meaningful to hear about women in Science from actual women in Science.”
This was certainly not the case in 2009 when Michelle Obama accompanied her husband Barak Obama on a visit to the G20 Summit. Little did we anticipate the impact that such a visit would have on the students she met. In Michelle’s visit to London she used the opportunity to speak to students aged between 11 – 16 years old. The results and impact on the students’ academic grades were in fact powerful and thought provoking.
According to a recent study the first lady’s visit to Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School, Islington, North London entailing an emotional visit had a direct impact on improving student’s exam grades. Professor Simon Burgess from Bristol University studied the impact of her association with the school on the girls’ exam results. The study found that there had been a positive correlation between the girls’ grades who had the opportunity of meeting Mrs Obama compared to those who did not.
Obama’s heartfelt praise of her education and hard work was what she believed led her to her successful career, telling the students “there was nothing in my story that would land me here. I wasn’t raised with wealth or resources or any social standing to speak of. If you want to know the reason why I’m standing here, it’s because of education. I never cut class. I liked being smart. I loved being on time. I loved getting my work done. I thought being smart was cooler than anything in the world.”
This study not only demonstrates and aids our understanding of what motivates the next generation of employees, the millennials, but also helps us to understand that being inspired and having an aspiration is the key to success within our educational system.
However, are we focusing so much more on inspiring our future female leaders that we are neglecting their male counterparts? The latest UCAS figures, released in January, show that not only have female admissions outnumbered males for years, but in 2014 that gap reached a record high. Our educational system now fosters nearly 58,000 more women than men at university level and women now make up more than half of students in two-thirds of subject areas.
Whether the study should be taken with a pinch of salt or not, there is no doubt that meeting such an inspirational and high profile personality can surely only have a positive effect on student’s motivation.
The Millennial generation have come of age at a time of technological change, a rapid rate of globalisation and economic disruption. They are the first natives of the true digital generation shaping the way they learn, shop and communicate. All trends and facts that will shape our future economy. Consequently, such interactions, feelings and emotions seem to be the way forward when aiming to grab this generations attention. Meeting and seeing success stories in an interactive way is the future for millennials for both education and employment.
So, it is not simply the message, but the messenger we should be focusing on. It is like anything in marketing, putting the right person (or message) in front of the right audience at the right time can have a hugely beneficial impact. If Sheldon Cooper could see this, then perhaps we could all recognise and implement a more interactive and aspirational message to our millennials.