STEM academy for girls takes off

As students choose their high school subjects, girls might put science, physics, math and IT subjects in the ‘too hard’ basket in spite of varied, well-paid career prospects.

To tackle the problem, one of Flinders University’s STEM (‘science, tech, engineering and mathematics) outreach programs is taking a further 158 Year 9 schoolgirls from across South Australia and the Northern Territory through this month’s (October 25-27) STEM Enrichment Academy.

Since 2019, this innovative three-day STEM program has put these important subjects to the forefront of more than 900 schoolgirls, boosting their confidence to take these topics into senior secondary years.

Including 300 this year, Flinders University has introduced hands-on STEM intensive workshops and role-model talks to hundreds of Year 9 girls – including current Flinders student Victoria Rowe (pictured above) – to the interesting and vast potential of tackling the ‘hard subjects’.

Professor of Physics Maria Parappilly says the program aims to inspire girls to engage with STEM subjects, in particular math and physics, in interesting, varied and relevant everyday problem-solving. As well as giving teachers up-to-date STEM professional development, it also gives students career pathway ideas.

Professor Maria Parappilly uses LEGO models to demonstrate physics to students from Nazareth Catholic College at a previous Flinders STEM Enrichment Academy conference.

Victoria Rowe, 18, who joined her school at the first STEM Enrichment conference at Flinders’ Bedford Park campus in 2019, says it was a turning point in her enjoyment of science topics. It led her to study a Bachelor of Science in the high performance stream with a view to focusing on physics including new nuclear physics and  honours subjects at the University’s College of Science and Engineering next year.

“Doing the Academy workshops at Flinders was fun and it really confirmed my interest in studying science subjects, which led on to physics in first year,” she says.

Flinders STEM Enrichment Academy director Professor Parappilly OAM says she’s delighted to support programs for girls and women in STEM at all levels of their lives – including programs for uni students and academics.

“In physics studies, females have been under-represented at senior school and university level, so I’m very pleased to see three girls from the 2019 STEM Enrichment Academy (all from country high schools) go on to high performance computational physics, space science and astrophysics and advanced Honours in physics.

“Another three are doing Honours in advanced sciences and laboratory sciences.

“With the under-representation of women in engineering, I am pleased to see 18 of our STEM Enrichment Academy alumni choose to study various courses , including systems and security engineering, architectural and structural, mechanical and biomedical in South Australia – including a double degree in engineering and sciences.”

As European professor of atomic physics Anne L’Huillier becomes one of only five woman in history to share the 2023 Nobel Prize for Physics, the discipline has become a booming field of career prospects.

Such significant innovations in laser science and engineering, together with rapid changes in quantum technology, computing, astronomy and space, materials science and the urgent need for energy, climate change and medical solutions is underpinning a wide field of research and employment in STEM.

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College of Science and Engineering