Interview with Florian Sonthonnax, Coordinator of the ParisTech/ENCPB “Ambition Sciences” programme and biotechnology teacher for the preparatory classes at the Lycée Pierre-Gilles de Gennes - ENCPB, and Marie-Ségolène Naudin, Delegate for Diversity at ParisTech.
The “Ambition Sciences” partnership between ParisTech and ENCPB (part of the Cordées de la réussite scheme) is entering its third year. What do you hope to achieve?
FS : Through the partnership we aim to empower secondary and prépa students to aim higher and believe in themselves so they can move beyond perceived barriers and understand the true value of science. The scheme creates links that extend right through the academic community – from secondary schools, to the Lycée Pierre-Gilles de Gennes - ENCPB, through to the ParisTech schools. And lastly, it opens up study routes and encourages students – girls especially – to pursue careers in STEM subjects.
MSN : Firstly, we want to continue strengthening the links between the four ParisTech schools (AgroParisTech, Arts et Métiers, Chimie ParisTech – PSL, ESPCI Paris – PSL) and the Lycée Pierre-Gilles de Gennes - ENCPB by increasing the level of investment of everyone involved. We’d also like to give mentees even more opportunities to see what it’s like to study at a Grande École, for example by arranging tours of the ParisTech schools and organising other events and meet-ups with current students.
How did the first two years go?
FS : Very well. We’ve had more secondary schools get involved, and seen an increase in motivation among secondary pupils and a lot more interest from prépa students too. The secondary pupils who go on to study at ENCPB are doing really well, and the first cohort of prépa students are now studying at one of the ParisTech schools.
MSN : All the students we mentor are eager to find out more about life at graduate school, but they need our support in this because it’s not necessarily the first thing they think of. There’s a lot of self-censorship and perceived barriers – the students can’t always see the opportunities available to them. Our tutors and mentors are always happy to share their experience, encourage the younger students to persevere with their studies, and provide support and guidance where necessary. It really is a valuable life experience. Some of our tutees even decide to pursue a career in teaching themselves. The human dimension is very rewarding, both for the mentors and the mentees! Every student who has gotten involved has been delighted and inspired by their experience, and learned a lot on a personal level too.
Would you say that the Cordées partnerships help diversify the student community across the ParisTech network?
FS : Yes – many of the prépa students didn’t think they had what it took to get into the ParisTech schools, but they dared to try – and succeeded. Diversity is a key challenge for the ParisTech schools. The majority of students have done preparatory classes at one of the prestigious Paris schools. Through the Cordées scheme, students from establishments that don’t have the same perceived level of prestige are able to join a ParisTech school, and go on to serve as role models for younger students, including those on financial support bursaries and those from less privileged backgrounds or areas.
MSN : Yes, definitely. Thanks to this type of partnership, prépa students who would never have dreamed of applying to such prestigious schools dare to put themselves forward and believe they can succeed. It’s a winwin situation, because at the same time the ParisTech schools value diversity highly and are keen to attract students from a wider range of backgrounds.