Students engage with nation’s top scientists

In a first for SA, more than 140 Year 9 girls have been given three days of insights into STEM at a science and innovation intensive program at Flinders University.

The Flinders University STEM Enrichment Academy conference featured a packed three-day schedule of hands-on workshops, tours, industry talks and round-table discussions aimed at inspiring girls towards STEM journeys.

The program featured leaders in industry and academia who eagerly gave their time to promote understand of the diverse possibilities of STEM careers.

Comprising 45 inspiring sessions, the dominant focus was physics and engineering with the event booked to capacity. It forms part of the STEM Enrichment Academy delivered by Flinders University over 2018 and 2019 through Federal Government support.

The program is the brain child of Flinders University’s Associate Professor Maria Parappilly, who says the Academy’s purpose is to reverse the decline of girls from STEM subjects in high school.

“The STEM Enrichment Academy offers two different programs: Real Science Enrichment Days, and a Design and Technology Enrichment Series for Year 9 girls throughout the year,” Associate Professor Parappilly says.

“Initial findings indicate the Real Science Enrichment Days generally shift a student’s attitude towards a career in science from ‘No’ to ‘Undecided’, with a shift from ‘No’ to ‘Yes’ prevalent among participants in the Design and Technology Series.

“The mid-high school years are a critical time for subject decisions that impact on future careers and we want to ensure young women understand the incredible opportunities there are in following a STEM path.”

Associate Professor Maria Parappilly (third from left) with Professor Alistair Rendell (Vice President of the College of Science and Engineering), Cassie Hoepner (PhD candidate and conference ambassador), with students from Nazareth Catholic College

Students attended from public and private schools all over the state, including Kadina and Whyalla.

Felicity is one student considering a bio-medical future and enjoyed hearing from a variety of scientists. “I liked how I got to see different scientists and hear first-hand about their experiences, their tips on making it in the world and their struggles.”

She thought the girls-only structure was fantastic, removing any possibility of boys dominating discussions or being a distraction. Her mother commended the organisers on a fantastic event that enabled the girls to see the “diversity of science including engineering and computer science”.

Students explored the ‘Mission to Mars’ activity through old newspaper reports, ahead of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing on July 20 2019 (July 21 in Australia). Local and interstate speakers included Dr Olivia Samardzic, a Flinders University alumna and Group Leader Electro-Optic Countermeasures at the Department of Defence, who founded the South Australian Space School and is internationally recognised for laser innovation. A recipient this year of the Public Service Medal-Federal in the Queen’s Birthday Honours, she was one of four speakers at the breakfast event on Day Two.

Other key speakers included internationally recognised materials scientist, engineer and innovator Professor Veena Sahajawlla and Chief Operating Officer of Beach Energy Dawn Summers.

RMIT physicist Dr Gail Iles was among the eminent scientists who flew in for the event. Drawing on her expertise as an astronaut instructor, she guided students through a ‘surviving in space’ activity where they completed systems engineering tasks and followed astronaut procedures.

Several workshops were led by Flinders University academics including Dr Sherry Randhawa, Dr Sue Pyke, Dr David Hobbs and Professor Claire Lenehan.

Professor Claire Lenehan demonstrates electrochemical activity – redox reactions
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College of Science and Engineering

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