New federal funds will help Flinders University support hundreds of Year 9 female high school students in South Australia and the Northern Territory to build science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and entrepreneurial skills to compete in future education and career opportunities.
The Flinders University STEM Enrichment Academy is the only SA university to receive almost $1 million in Australian Government Department of Industry, Science and Resources funding through the latest round of the Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship (WiSE) program.
The $996,144 injection will ramp up the academy’s outreach in regional and suburban schools, this time targeting a further 1,000 schoolgirls through STEM enhancement courses, as well as a new diploma course for up to 150 secondary STEM teachers.
“We are aiming to engage thousands of girls by giving them and their teachers ‘real world’ insights into the career and education pathways possible via STEM studies,” said lead chief investigator Professor of Physics Maria Parappilly, who is director of Flinders University’s STEM Enrichment Academy.
More than 90% of female participants in the first year of the academy’s program have gone on to study advanced STEM subjects in their senior years of high school.
“Equipped with fresh insights into the potential and excitement of STEM subjects, including with industry placements and hands-on skills enrichment, we hope to increase the gender balance in occupations such as engineering, mathematics and other career pathways,” Parappilly said
She said reversing declining female STEM participation is more important than ever to close the gender pay gap and meet skills shortages and productivity targets.
“In the first phase of the academy, we influenced more than 500 participating girls positively by boosting their confidence in STEM subjects and reversing student attitudes on the difficulty of STEM careers – and increased the number studying STEM in their senior years of high school, with subsequent increased university enrolments,” Parappilly said.
“Another really exciting part of the next part of the project is to design and offer an Enhacement Diploma in Teaching Physics and Math to upskill primary teachers and non-STEM teachers and students from other discipline areas to teach physics and maths at higher levels and to develop sustainable STEM capabilities among teachers.”
Removing systemic and cultural barriers
Federal Minister for Industry and Science Mr Ed Husic said the latest round of $15.9 million in grant funding aimed to support more women into STEM careers, and encouraged girls to study STEM subjects.
“We want to make sure that more women find lasting, rewarding and successful careers in STEM fields, regardless of their background,” Mr Husic said.
“The grants program focuses on projects that remove systemic and cultural barriers for women in STEM education, careers, innovation and entrepreneurship. It supports project that increase the number of women in senior leadership and decision-making positions in government, research organisation, industry and business.”
Physics a major focus
Increasing the number of female students studying STEM – physics and engineering in particular – and ensuring teachers are better equipped in regional schools are among the goals of Phase 2 of the Flinders Academy, and will feature:
- Expanding into regional and remote areas of SA and the NT to engage another 1000 girls and 150 teachers.
- Enriching participating girls’ motivation through high-quality hands-on labs designed to arouse curiosity and develop an innovative mindset.
- Explaining and illustrating physics through enrichments to enhance the appreciation of physics in the community and to grow more students in University STEM programs.
- Showing the girls diversity of females working in STEM to explicitly address ‘imposter syndrome’ and improve their confidence.
- Building capacity in the STEM teaching workforce through a STEM enhancement diploma.
The next phase of the program will be led by Professor Parappilly and fellow Flinders experts Professor Claire Lenehan, Professor David Day, Professor John Roddick, Professor Richard Woodman and Vanessa Lobban.