In2science is excited to celebrate the International Day of Women and Girls in Science (11 February) with the release of a Women in Science podcast by Deakin University, featuring two of our amazing In2science mentors, Brooke Jensen and Zoe Brittain. Listen to them discuss their STEM journeys and the importance of having strong female role models with Tordy Rowe, Deakin’s In2science Program Coordinator. Our In2science mentors are inspiring examples of women in science leadership roles, sharing their enthusiasm and passion for STEM with secondary school students.
By Rachel Ella
“The year is 2030 and an international group of Astronauts has just landed on Mars. To support health and wellbeing on this long-term mission tasty, fresh plants are grown in carefully monitored Space labs. Astronauts carefully monitor resource supply and demand for sustainable production. A meteorite storm requires the plant-bot to pick and deliver the food to astronauts, but can it make it through the Mars terrain unscathed?” – Associate Professor Kim Johnson, La Trobe University lecturer and Plants for Space researcher.
The next 20 years will prove to be an exciting time for Space and Agricultural scientists alike as crewed missions to the moon and Mars take off. Supplying varied and nutritious food to crews on the three-year round trip to Mars is one of the challenges faced. Plants will need to be grown, on Mars, to maintain the physical and mental health of the crew. Yes, that’s right! Plants grown on Mars!
The problem: there is a severe skills shortage in Australia in both the Space and Agriculture industries to make this a reality.
The solution: introduce the topic to early secondary school students and inspire them to become part of the first mission to Mars! A collaboration between In2science, Greenvale Secondary College in Victoria, St Helens District High School in Tasmania, the Victorian Space Science Education Centre (VSSEC), and led by the La Trobe Institute of Sustainable Agriculture and Food (LISAF) did just that.
Students from grade 6 to year 8 were tasked with growing duckweed and building robots. Greenvale SC had the assistance of our mentor Lim Chee Liew who is a Research Fellow at LISAF. Lim Chee assisted the students in preparing agar plates to grow the duckweed, which was then placed in environments of varying light levels. Lim Chee demonstrated how to use a light meter to measure light intensity, and over the following weeks data was collected to measure and compare the growth of the plants.
“What is duckweed?” I hear you ask. Duckweed is the world’s smallest flowering plant, common in freshwater habitats and is a rich source of nutrients. When we think of plant-based protein we think of soy and wheat, but as these are among the top foods that cause allergies, research is being done to find alternatives. Duckweed is one such alternative, with protein levels reaching a massive 41%! It has the added benefit of high levels of minerals and vitamins – up to 26%. Another benefit of duckweed is its simple structure allowing for rapid growth, taking a mere 3.5 to 6.5 days to double in size! I am sure you will agree that all these elements make duckweed a very attractive food source for our astronauts.
Next was the robot build. The robot kits were sourced by Simon Egerton, Deputy Head of the Department of Computer Science & Information Technology at La Trobe. In small groups, and with the assistance of Lim Chee, the students built their robots following a detailed instruction manual and accompanying videos created by Simon. The students also drew a plan of their proposed Martian gardens, both in greenhouses and outdoors, taking into consideration the different surface environment as compared to Earth. There was also a requirement for the robots to have an implement to harvest the duckweed and transport it from the gardens to the astronauts’ living quarters, which the students designed and constructed.
The project concluded in mid-December with a student showcase held at La Trobe University’s AgriBio facility with the students in Tasmania connected via live stream. We heard from recently retired NASA Crop Production Engineer Ralph Fritsche, who spoke about his time at NASA, the future of space exploration and habitation, and the need for a ready supply of fresh nutritious foods to be available to astronauts. This was fascinating! Each group of students then presented their garden plan and robot with its accompanying harvesting/transport prototype. The students described their motivation behind their designs and talked about their robot build – what they enjoyed and what they found challenging. Both schools presented their results on the growth of their duckweed and showed that the duckweed grew faster with more sunlight but that meant that it also required more water. It was suggested that in future a controlled UV light/hydroponics system could be used to maximise the growth of the duckweed.
This pilot project has been a great success, with overall positive feedback provided from the teachers, students, and mentors. Congratulations to everyone involved! If you would like to be part of the In2science program and Plant Life on Mars, please get in touch and help us to inspire the next generation of STEM champions!
One of the key aims of the In2science Peer Mentoring Program is to foster and build connections between industry, universities, and schools. The Mentor Leaders Program (MLP) forms a major part of this goal. The MLP was initiated in the second half of 2021 and has run continuously since. In 2023, in only its third year, the MLP was bigger and better than ever! This is all thanks to the generous support of Toyota Community Trust. So, what did we achieve in the MLP this year?
The MLP kicked off in May with STEM Professionals and university mentors eagerly signing up to be part of the program. In 2023 we were able to match 15 STEM Professionals (the mentors) to In2science Leaders (the mentees). After some training, the pairs jumped straight into organising meetings to discuss a range of topics, such as pathways through university and into the workforce, interview strategies, networking tips, and applying for jobs. It has been great to see that not every meeting has focussed solely on career progression, with our participants also chatting about work-life balance, managing burnout, and the dreaded imposter syndrome! The In2science team have loved reading the feedback on these meetings and we are so pleased to see both mentors and mentees benefitting from the relationship.
On Tuesday October 3 the Mentor Leaders Program had its first ever catch up at the fantastic Royal Melbourne Hotel on Bourke Street. Despite the inclement weather, many of the program’s participants ventured out to enjoy the event. The evening kicked off with some drinks and canapes in the candlelit “Cells” room, which provided a spooky and fun atmosphere to catch up with the attendees. It was especially lovely to see our mentor/mentee pairs excitedly chatting together. Our guests were treated to a workshop hosted by Taylor and Eshita from Teach for Australia. The workshop, titled “Leading Self, Leading Others”, took the participants on an exploration of what it means to be a leader, and how being self-aware and understanding your own behaviours will help you to be a better leader of others. This was a fantastic event and we thank Teach for Australia for their input and expertise.
This year we had four STEM Professionals from Thermo Fisher Scientific participating in the MLP, and one of them, Jacqueline Saykao, organised for the paired mentees to experience a full day visit to the office in Scoresby. This was a brilliant initiative and it was eagerly taken up by the In2science Leaders. The attendees were treated to a tour of Thermo Fisher and learnt about different roles at the company. Elizabeth Thomas, Bachelor of Science student at The University of Melbourne and current In2science mentor, said, “I was very lucky to visit Thermo Fisher and learn about the company’s values. Each of our mentors presented and explained what their roles entailed and what a day in their life looked like. I found these talks very helpful to understanding what a career in STEM would be like and it also made me realise I am happy with my choice of study. We wrapped up the day with lunch at a local cafe, where we networked with other Thermo Fisher employees and Grad Program participants. Overall, I had a great visit and learned a lot more than I expected about one potential career in STEM.” In2science would like to thank Jacqueline and the team at Thermo Fisher for this fantastic opportunity. This is what the MLP is all about!
To wrap up this extraordinary year, on Thursday November 30, the MLP participants gathered at the beautiful Deakin Downtown to share stories and achievements. Katarina Persic, Community Foundations Coordinator at Toyota Australia, opened the event. We were then treated to a presentation by Thilanka Morawakage, Project Officer at Murdoch Children’s Research Institute. Thilanka spoke passionately about how her love for science began with visits to Questacon and CSIRO, and has led her to an exciting career in biomedicine with lots of opportunities to volunteer. A panel discussion with mentor/mentee pair Catherine Hart, Senior Sustainability and Environmental Specialist at Toyota Australia, and Veda Mileva, Bachelor of Biomedicine student at La Trobe University, followed. Moderated by In2science Program Coordinator Rachel Ella, the discussion highlighted how the program produces mutually beneficial relationships. Cat mentioned how inspiring it was to meet new people in the program and how it has helped her reflect on her own career pathway. Veda loved that she was able to achieve her goals of fine-tuning her CV and adding her personality into her cover letters. This event was the perfect way to wrap-up a very successful year of the Mentor Leaders Program.
The In2science Team have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the enthusiastic STEM Professionals that volunteered to take part in the MLP this year, and the exceptional group of university students that participated. We would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to Toyota Community Trust for their ongoing support. We hope the MLP will return in 2024 with even more matches and exciting events!
By Tordy Rowe
Deakin University proudly joined the In2science program in 2023, with the challenge to deliver in-class STEM mentoring in Geelong and Warrnambool secondary schools using campuses outside of metropolitan Melbourne. I had the pleasure of Coordinating placements for the wonderful Deakin mentors throughout 2023 (see our smiling faces on the right!).
Across two placements in trimesters 1 and 2, Deakin students have passionately embraced the program, with 18 students placed in schools across Geelong and Warrnambool. These In2science mentors have inspired more than 440 secondary school students and shown them what they are capable of and could achieve, while building STEM study as an exciting and positive option for their future. As In2science mentor Claire put it, “The best thing about mentoring has been helping kids ‘click’ and learn things, helping them realise that science isn’t actually hard and can be fun and interesting.” In fact, 69% of secondary school students surveyed stated that their Deakin In2science mentor helped them realise that everyone can study science.
Additionally, 16 Deakin students supported regional secondary school students as eMentors, taking on the challenge to inspire and motivate through an online platform, with great success.
“The value of the In2science program at Deakin is profound, it enables us to build aspiration, impact and influence in the communities we serve – leveraging our school partnerships, alumni and student experiences. Nurturing the pipeline of talented young people in Science and STEM more broadly, enriches our university community and helps achieve gender equality objectives of our university,” said Mel Martinelli, Executive Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
In its inaugural year, seven secondary schools in Geelong and two secondary schools in Warrnambool jumped at the opportunity to further inspire their students. An impressive 90% of teachers surveyed were highly likely to recommend the In2science program to their colleagues and would like to have another mentor in the future. As Professor Nick Birbilis, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Science, Engineering and Built Environment, noted, “In2science is pivotal in building the future of STEM in schools around Deakin campuses, and aligns with Deakin’s values and mission of providing educational experiences to all. Our mentors typify the spirit of the power of education.”
In2science and Deakin University are very much looking forward to seeing the program grow in 2024!
At In2science we love to support our hard-working volunteers by offering professional development and upskilling sessions that can be applied to their school-student mentoring and beyond. We hosted our second professional development workshop for the year on Wednesday September 20 at the stunning Deakin Downtown in Melbourne’s CBD. “The Inclusive Mentor” was presented by Alicea Yu, Coordinator of Training and Capacity Building at Deakin University, and was enjoyed by both in-class mentors and eMentors from our partner universities.
Alicea began the session by welcoming us all to a safe and respectful space, offering us the chance to learn and ask questions without judgement. While the topics of inclusivity and the LGBTQIA+ community can be serious, Alicea presented with such warmth and humour that attendees felt comfortable opening up and sharing their experiences and thoughts. An activity centred around each of us choosing one privilege to keep was particularly eye-opening, and helped us realise that we may have privileges that we take for granted. Alicea taught us ways to embed inclusivity in our daily lives by being more aware of our behaviour and language. Small changes can have a huge impact on making others feel more included and valued, and is something that we can all continuously improve upon.
In2science is proud to be an inclusive program and we embrace the fact that there is always something new to learn. We would like to thank Alicea for sharing her knowledge with us and our mentors. We are certain that everyone left the workshop feeling more confident with inclusive practice and ready to take these skills to their mentoring sessions. If you are interested in becoming a mentor for In2science, apply today or email us to find out more!
By Tordy Rowe
Although at In2science we predominantly work with secondary schools and their students, we are strong supporters of engagement with STEM at all ages. On Wednesday August 16, as part of National Science Week, In2science had the privilege of attending Ngarri Primary School’s STEM Celebration Afternoon. Deakin University mentors Jolene Rosca, a Bachelor of Psychological Science student, and Vaijayanti Kelkar, studying a Bachelor of Forensic Science and Bachelor of Criminology, represented In2science as exciting examples of what STEM can look like after school.
Jolene and Vaijayanti, both current In2science mentors at Matthew Flinders Girls Secondary College, shared their stories with the gathered families before leading activities in forensic science and statistics. Vaijayanti’s forensic activity proved very popular, with students eagerly comparing their fingerprints to their parents’ and looking for similarities. Jolene shared a maths card trick with students, to much disbelief, until she explained and taught the statistical concepts behind it. Every family opted to engage in their activities, allowing both mentors to showcase their enthusiasm and knowledge about STEM and its endless possibilities.
As Jolene put it, “It was definitely a different experience, but seeing the students excited about the STEM activities was very heart-warming. It made me even more enthusiastic about studying my degree. Having the opportunity to inspire these students was very fulfilling, and I would love the opportunity to do it again.” In2science would like to thank Brittney and Ngarri Primary School for the opportunity to engage with the attending families, and we hope that we have inspired more school students to continue to study STEM.
At In2science, we love to provide opportunities for our mentors to go beyond the traditional structure of our program and are always looking for new ways to give back to the community. On Monday August 21, three of our outstanding mentors shared stories of their experiences at university with participants in the Student Ambassador program at Banyule Nillumbik Tech School in Greensborough. In2science was honoured to be invited to the Tech School’s Ambassador Day, and jumped at the chance to engage with the 41 year 7 to 10 students from the participating partner schools.
Rachel Ella, past mentor and current In2science Program Coordinator, opened the session by discussing the winding pathway she has taken to arrive at her degree, a Bachelor of Science majoring in Maths and Chemistry. Rachel’s engaging and humorous presentation described the many different paths she has followed and how they have led to her pursuing her dream of secondary school teaching. Rachel’s key message was that journeys in life almost never go straight from A to B. It is important to embrace all the twists and turns you encounter along the way as you head towards your end goal (which might also change!).
The next presenter was Vincent Cutugno, Bachelor of Psychological Science student at La Trobe University and mentor at Templestowe College. Vincent spoke openly about struggling to work out what he wanted to do in his future, and how he sought advice from lots of different places – friends, family, even online quizzes – before discovering his passion for psychology. Vincent’s advice for the students was that once they get to university it is vital they are prepared to take responsibility for their own learning, and to explore their options if they are not sure what to study.
Joshua Watkins, who is mentoring at Williamstown High School while studying a Bachelor of Biomedical Science at Deakin University, had some fascinating insights on the challenges he faced when starting university in Australia after attending high school in Canada. He also spoke about how he created his own opportunities, such as undertaking an internship with CSIRO, while completing his degree. Joshua’s message to the students was that university can be daunting until you ‘find your people’ and build strong connections and support networks, which will make the experience even more enjoyable.
During the Q&A session, the Student Ambassadors had some incredibly insightful and thoughtful questions for the presenters. We were all extremely impressed by the consideration these young adults are giving to their future study and careers. We hope they found our advice – such as volunteering to gain experience – useful, and we are sure they will all make the most of forthcoming opportunities. In2science would like to thank Scott, Kayla, Maria and Anastasia from the Banyule Nillumbik Tech School for inviting us to their Ambassador Day. We wish the Student Ambassadors all the best for their futures, and we can’t wait to return to inspire more students to follow their passions.
By Rachel Ella
Templestowe College is a long-term supporter of the In2science program and offers our mentors amazing experiences. This semester one of our mentors was part of the year 8/9 Zoology class. The students in this class work with the animals they have living on campus… yes, that’s right… ‘lions and tigers and bears, oh my!’ Well, not quite – but lizards, snakes, fish, birds, and so much more! On a recent site visit, I was lucky enough to have a tour of the reptile program. These animals are housed in the classroom where the students have their lessons, how cool is that! I also got taken to the fish and eel enclosures where some of the students introduced me to their eel, Comet, and they showed me how they had trained Comet to swim through a hoop and touch his nose on a ball!
Comet’s training program was summarised by one of his student trainers: “In Zoology once a week we get to pay a visit to the fish program’s eel, Comet, to train him. When we train him, we use positive reinforcement to encourage him to swim through the ring like we’re currently doing. He’s come a long way since we first started training him – from simply bumping a bright ping-pong ball on the nose, to swimming through a ring effortlessly. Training Comet usually takes only two, sometimes three people – one holds the ring with the ping-pong ball behind it for him to swim through and bump his nose on, a second person to flash a torch into Comet’s tank to tell him he did what we wanted, and the third to feed Comet his fishy reward, and help him affiliate doing these tricks with snacks.”
We would like to thank Templestowe College and their teaching staff for their continued support of the In2science program. Templestowe College and all of our participating schools are the backbone of our program. Without your support our mentors could not inspire the next generation of STEM superstars!
In2science was honoured to be invited to participate in the inaugural Teach For Australia (TFA) Mid-Year Community and Partnerships Expo. This event, hosted on July 5th at University College, brought together over 100 early career teachers and TFA alumni to learn about programs that support teachers in the classroom. In2science was joined by 17 like-minded organisations to connect with teachers and showcase opportunities for school engagement.
In2science Program Coordinators Rachel (La Trobe University) and Jarrod (The University of Melbourne) were kept extremely busy throughout the expo, with a steady stream of teachers wanting to find out more about our amazing program. We received a lot of interest from teachers in both metropolitan and regional schools, and the feedback from the day was extremely positive. We can’t wait to build on the connections created at this event!
In2science would like to thank Lauren Driscoll and the team at Teach For Australia for a fantastic day, and we look forward to our continuing association with TFA. If you are interested in hosting an In2science mentor in your STEM class, contact us today!
One of our favourite activities in the In2science team is gathering mentors from all five partner universities for professional development workshops! It’s a great opportunity for mentors to network with each other and the In2science staff in a relaxed environment, while learning skills to use both inside and outside their mentoring role. On Tuesday June 20th, a group of past, current, and future In2science mentors assembled at the La Trobe University City Campus for a fun and informative session. After another busy semester of studying, our university student mentors were eager to learn ideas and advice for progressing their future careers!
Our guest speaker was Tina Papadakos, a Careers Consultant from the Swinburne University of Technology Career Development Team. Tina delivered an interactive and insightful workshop, beginning by explaining how to identify your personal brand, and describing ways to develop this and communicate it to others. We talked about developing a LinkedIn profile and how to use this to connect with people and groups (like In2science!). Topics such as informational interviewing, elevator pitches, and using the STAR technique in interviews were all covered with fun activities. The mentors were able to see how volunteering for In2science can boost their resume and employability. We all know how competitive the job market is, so the tips and tricks provided by Tina will be put to good use by our mentors as they navigate through their studies and careers.
The In2science Team is proud to offer a variety of useful and fun professional development opportunities to our hardworking volunteer mentors. If you are interested in becoming a mentor for In2science, apply today or email us to find out more!