Excited pupils explored virtual landscapes and learned new digital skills when they visited state-of-the-art facilities at the University of Leeds.
The immersive experience, using virtual reality (VR) headsets alongside the UK’s only Omnideck – a 360-degree treadmill – was part of a project aimed at inspiring children from diverse backgrounds to pursue a career in data science.
Year-eight students from Carlton Keighley secondary school enjoyed a hands-on tour of the University’s data and computing facilities, including a morning in Leeds Institute for Data Analytics (LIDA), coding and acting as data experts on real-life issues, such as sustainable transport and improved healthcare.
They also tried brain-scanning and ventured into computer-generated environments at multi-use digital space, HELIX. The cutting-edge centre, which is not yet fully open, provides a home for all digitally-focused activity at the University. During the visit, which was one of HELIX’s pre-opening events, pupils wore VR headsets while using the trailblazing equipment – enabling them to walk freely in the virtual world, unlimited by their real-life surroundings.
Carlton Keighley pupil Haneefah said: “The best part of the day was when I went on the Omnideck. I didn’t even know that was a thing.
“I learned that data science is related to a lot of careers. I was already planning on coming to this university and it has made me even more determined now.”
The partnership between the school and the University is a pilot for LIDA’s five-year Open Data Science for Schools project (LODSS), aimed at making the sector relatable to children and inspiring a new, more diverse generation of data scientists.
LIDA’s Kylie Norman, who leads both the LODSS project and the Data Scientist Development Programme, said: “Our programme gives graduates and career changers the opportunity to train on the job, applying themselves to real-world data and topical research questions, with the aim of addressing societal inequalities.
“We were recognised for our ground-breaking approach to equitable recruitment in the University’s 2022 Research Culture award for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. The Open Data Science for Schools project is funded by the prize money from this award and is a continuation of this work.”
Diversity in our cohort improves the quality of our research and provides more opportunities to those from groups underrepresented in data science.
LIDA data scientist James Battye said: “It’s been a pleasure to be involved with this valuable initiative with the fantastic students at Carlton Keighley. Many careers now require an understanding of how to work with data effectively, and the aim of this project was to show the students that working with data can be fun, engaging and impactful. I hope the students enjoyed the event, and perhaps some attendees will be working alongside us as data scientists in the future!”
LIDA’s Data Scientist Development Programme is among the first at the University to recruit exclusively women and candidates from minoritised groups. The collaboration with Carlton Keighley is part of a targeted effort to make data science relatable to children by showcasing the diverse backgrounds and opportunities of early-career data scientists on the programme.
Keighley scores particularly highly for deprivation markers such as food insecurity, and few pupils apply to study at the University of Leeds from Keighley schools.
Carlton Keighley Head of School, Mark Turvey, said: “We are very happy to engage and work in partnership with LIDA and the University of Leeds on this pilot project. This presents our students with an opportunity to explore and discover opportunities by developing their awareness of the learning and skills, and pathways in data science careers.”
For media enquiries, please email Deb Newman, External Communications and Campaigns Officer at the University of Leeds, on D.Newman@leeds.ac.uk
Visit LIDA Open Data Science for Schools for further information on the project.