Women’s role in space programs has historically been limited, with almost 90 per cent of astronauts being male – but Dr Olivia Samardzic dared to dream big and succeed in the space sector by helping create the South Australian Space School in 1997.
Dr Samardzic, a Flinders University alumna and Research Leader with the Australian Department of Defence, created the school as a means of addressing a sharp decline in the numbers of students taking up physics, and recalled that it was her childhood fascination with space that inspired her own scientific studies.
“It was the wonders of space that led me to pursue a career in STEM and I knew that if it could inspire me it could inspire thousands of other students,” she says.
The South Australian Space School has presented stimulating and rewarding educational experiences for outstanding Year 10 students in South Australia, to focus them on a career in science or engineering.
It was a successful strategy that has led to a profound increase on the number of students pursuing studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), with a 10-year study of Space School’s impact on students showing that 79% say it influenced their choices towards STEM subjects and careers.
“I want students to know that science is for everybody and that there is an amazing career waiting for them at the end of their studies,” says Dr Samardzic.
Dr Samardzic’s success has been formally recognised by Flinders University awarding its celebrated science graduate with the Convocation Medal, the highest honour in its 2019 Alumni Awards that recognises Flinders University graduates’ outstanding contribution to the community, the University or within their chosen field, locally or overseas.
The award carries special significance for Dr Samardzic, as Flinders University alumni award recipients are nominated by the wider community for their achievements.
Nominations for 2020 alumni awards can be lodged via the Flinders University website – flinders.edu.au/alumni-awards – until Friday September 11.
Dr Samardzic joins an extraordinary list of immediate past Flinders alumni award winners, including Australian of the Year Dr Richard Harris, mathematician Terence Tao, actor Noni Hazlehurst AM, Indigenous artist John Moriarty AM, biotechnology expert and SA’s first female chief scientist Professor Leanna Read, former Australian chief medical officer Dr Christopher Baggoley, theatre director Gale Edwards, medical administrator Air Vice-Marshal Dr Tracy Smart AM, broadcaster Peter Goers OAM, theatre director Geordie Brookman and movie producer Kerry Heysen.