School students engage with STEM at Flinders University

Over 140 Year 9 girls attended an intensive three-day science and innovation program at Flinders University.

The Flinders University STEM Enrichment Academy conference featured a 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,” Parappilly said.

“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.”

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

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.