New project aims to reverse STEM decline

A program targeting Year 9 female students and their teachers will see around 140 South Australian girls learn about the benefits and opportunities of STEM studies through workshops, industry engagement and mentoring over a two-year Flinders project.

The program ‘STEM Enrichment Academy: Changing the face of SA STEM’ has been made possible by a Federal Government Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship (WISE) Grant of $167,960, received by project leaders Dr Maria Parappilly (lead applicant), Professor Claire Lenehan, Professor David Day and Julie Herraman.

The central aim of the project is to increase the number of female students studying engineering and physics at universities, by specifically targeting Year 9 girls before they close off their options.

Monthly ‘Enrichment Workshops’ will commence in July at Flinders at Tonsley, with industry visits, a teachers program and mentoring by industry leaders rounding out a comprehensive year-long program that will provide insight and inspiration for students and teachers. Project leaders will empower students in the application of STEM across a range of industries and highlight career opportunities, while building confidence in students and capacity in teachers.

A highlight of each annual program will be a three-day interactive conference, scheduled for December 2018 and 2019.

Flinders University was one of just seven universities across the nation to win funding in the second round of WISE grants.

Despite considerable focus on the importance of STEM subjects, young women remain unlikely to consider careers in disciplines such as physics and engineering, which is seeing continued low participation rates at university.

Professor Parappilly and her colleagues hope to make a difference through the program, including outcomes that will see:

  • improved female engagement in STEM
  • STEM capabilities developed and number of female enrolments in physics and engineering increased
  • teachers provided with an improved STEM education and empowered to teach STEM subjects through the lens of story, to better engage girls
  • initiatives targeted at supporting girls in STEM examined to gauge their efficacy and altered accordingly

The findings of this pilot program will inform a broader study on girls in STEM in Australia.

Dr Parappilly is also founder of the STEM Women Branching out Group, which develops unique programs for Flinders and high school students. It has built relationships with companies such as Cochlear, SA Power Networks, BHP and Defense-DST, which will prove valuable in helping deliver the mentoring and industry engagement aspects of the program.

A total of 22 organisations across Australia were successful in winning funding in the latest round, awarding more than $4 million in funds to projects targeting women and girls across Australia.

The WISE grants are designed to foster lifelong interest in STEM, encourage greater participation in STEM careers and help female STEM professionals build entrepreneurial skills and networks.

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