A sellout crowd gathered at Engineers Australia on May 22nd to participate in the In2science STEM Partnerships Forum. This year, participants focused on the question, “What can we do better together?” to improve current collaborations across the industry and education sectors. This provided a unique platform for industry, school and STEM outreach program representatives to openly discuss challenges and devise strategies to maximise the impact of current STEM programs.
1. Don’t drop English and Maths
2. Your degree is not the end of your education, it’s what opens doors
3. Give students real life problems, not job titles
1. Don’t drop English and Maths
Dr. Alan Finkel AO, Australia’s Chief Scientist and In2science patron delivered the opening address, emphasising the need for developing STEM skill sets in young Australians so they can “thrive in a world where there are no guarantees.” He stressed that school and industry partnerships are invaluable because a STEM qualification is a doorway to opportunities that may not yet exist. His advice to students were three-fold: 1. Don’t drop English and Maths; 2. your degree is not the end of your education, and 3. STEM education addresses real world problems, not specific job titles.
In2science Advisory Board Chair and La Trobe University Chancellor, The Hon Prof John Brumby AO, moderated the discussion panel that followed, fielding questions that encompassed the current challenges facing STEM programs. When asked how to get more students to study science, Jess Sartori, Assistant Principal of Preston High School, said that having programs like In2science is encouraging and refreshing because students can talk honestly to university mentors about their job prospects. Gavin Smith, President and Chairman of the local subsidiary Robert Bosch Australia, agreed saying that, “we as a multinational will need so many STEM-qualified people within 10-20 years. We think the figure is about 90% of all the jobs in our company will require STEM skills.”
To address the issue of poor participation rates in female students, Sartori emphasised the importance of having female role models, and to challenge students to solve real-life problems. Alesha Printz, the General Manager, Victoria Division of Engineers Australia, highlighted an industry problem saying, “The percentage of female engineers tend to hover around 13% of the profession…There is a huge marketing issue for women. I think it’s around shifting the message that we’re giving to young girls and giving them the confidence that they can be good at this.” Brenda Frisk, Director of Wyndham Tech School, agreed saying, “One of the main areas that we’re focused on is leadership in women…I think it’s about giving girls the permission. We still don’t do that. It’s about giving them the voice to be able to speak.”
Frisk also emphasised the importance of alignment between industry and education in their investment. Printz highlighted that spaces like the In2science STEM Partnerships Forum are what bridges the gaps between industry and education, stating, “if we can actually understand each other’s perspectives [we can] support each other to help solve this problem.” Smith agreed, saying that industry often puts the blame on universities for not providing job-ready graduates, but “industry has to provide the input, no question” to what is actually needed from graduates to solve problems.
In closing, Sartori praised the In2science program saying, “[In2science] makes it easy for me. It has a lot of value. I can see the impact that it has on the students. I know it’s powerful because I had my gorgeous Year 12s graduate, go into science degrees, join In2science and come back to the school and give back”.
Additional questions from the floor sparked more robust discussion, which continued well into the evening as panellists and attendees mingled over canapes and drinks. Events such as these, which promote partnerships and collaboration between schools, universities, industry and outreach programs are invaluable for catering to the growing interest and need for STEM outreach programs. In2science would like to express our heartfelt thanks to Engineers Australia for providing the exceptional venue and to Dr Finkel, our esteemed panellists and all attendees for an inspiring and successful evening.
Follow and continue the conversation with #in2partnerships on Twitter and the VicSTEM Alliance Linkedin Group. For more information about STEM outreach programs, search the STARportal. Click here and here for the Twitter recording of the event.