Mhairi McCann

Roles at NAAEE:

30 Under 30

Mhairi empowers youth globally to tackle the world's biggest challenges through science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

How are you using education to build more sustainable and equitable communities?

 At Youth STEM 2030, we’re empowering youth globally to tackle the world’s biggest challenges through science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). I believe that young people can change the world, but too often this potential remains unrealized. That’s why I’m on a mission to help young people realize their potential as changemakers by creating Youth STEM 2030 as the ecosystem of support, opportunities, and platforms that youth need to create a more sustainable future. This includes giving young people a platform through our youth-led scientific journal, Youth STEM Matters, and our Youth STEM Summit, which is designed and led entirely by young people.

My environmental education work extends beyond Youth STEM 2030. For example, I recently presented a series of videos for BBC Bitesize to teach young people about the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). I also work with several organizations to drive greater, and more meaningful, youth involvement in decision making.

I have a particular passion for the ocean, and alongside representing Scotland as part of the World Ocean Day Youth Advisory Council, I’ve taken 50,000+ pieces of plastic out of the River Clyde through 80+ weekly beach cleans!  Mhairi hosting the 2021 World Ocean Day Youth-a-thon as a member of the World Ocean Day Youth Advisory Council.

Tell us about your journey to where you are today. 

Growing up, I didn’t realize that I could make a difference—I used to think you had to wait until you finished school and got a job. This all changed in 2016, when I spent the summer doing a scientific research project at the local university, investigating the impact of pesticides on marine invertebrates.

While this research project gave me new skills and some amazing experiences, its true impact comes down to one word: possibility. It fundamentally changed what I thought was possible. It gave me the confidence to start volunteering, and it was through these experiences that I then started to learn about who I was and realized that a 'conventional' path through life wouldn't be right for me. Along the way, I realized that the solutions to our biggest challenges can come from anyone, anywhere. STEM holds so many of the solutions, and youth are a huge untapped potential. Yet, the structures within our society often prevent many young people from realizing their potential. That’s why I created Youth STEM 2030. I want to give other young people that same possibility, because I know the difference it can make.

What advice would you give to the next generation of leaders?

Never forget that the status quo is not the only way of doing things: everything around us can be changed. And as a young person, being young can be your biggest asset to creating that change—you just need to find your unique way of doing it!  Mhairi on one of her weekly #SOSSaturdays beach cleans, through which she has taken over 50,000 pieces of plastic out of the River Clyde.

What keeps you hopeful for the future?

The drive of other young people to create a world that is more just and more sustainable keeps me hopeful because our generation is not the future—we’re here right now as the leaders of today.

What book, film, or art piece has had the greatest impact on you?

The film Inventing Tomorrow, which follows young people from around the world as they prepare to compete in the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), has had the greatest impact on me. I first saw Inventing Tomorrow at the 2020 Virtual Regeneron ISEF. I cried towards the end of the film because, after 3 years of not knowing what I was doing with my life, watching this film made me realize that by creating Youth STEM 2030, I’d found my path.