Seventeen students from four regional schools in Western Australia’s southern Peel region were encouraged to consider a career in STEM this year thanks to the launch of In2science’s eMentoring program by The University of Western Australia (UWA) with support from the Alcoa Foundation. Volunteer university mentors, through UWA’s Aspire program, connected weekly with Year 9 – 11 students online to build STEM aspirations and close the disadvantage gap between regional, outer metropolitan and metropolitan school students.
Bronwen Veale, UWA School Partnerships Coordinator, who oversaw this successful pilot reflected on the importance of peer mentoring, “Being able to connect online in this way means that high school students can still meet and learn from university students, despite living away from the Perth metropolitan area”.
In its first week, Bronwen observed enormous enthusiasm from the participating students of Pinjarra Senior High School, Harvey Senior High School, Gilmore College and Coondanup College.
The pilot, which ran for 5 weeks, concentrated on building rapport, outlining goals and increasing student participation and engagement in STEM by breaking down negative stereotypes, forming positive associations with students’ sense of personal identity and providing them with tangible examples that STEM is interesting, relevant and important.
Nine Aspire Ambassadors studying STEM degrees were chosen to mentor students who were carefully selected by their schools. Selected students demonstrated an interest in STEM and either had diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds, identified as being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent, were first-in-family to consider tertiary education or were facing financial disadvantage.
Mentor, Vish, who is studying a Bachelor of Biomedical Science, was excited to connect with students from his old school. When reflecting on his own student experience at Gilmore College, he said, “I graduated from a low socio-economic high school and so going to that high school I felt that I missed out on these university connections and opportunities because it was located so far away from university.”
Treasure, a mentor studying a Doctor of Medicine at UWA, expressed the importance of role models, saying, “Part of you having dreams and aspirations is keeping those dreams alive and sometimes when you don’t have those mentors in your lives it’s easy for those dreams to fade”.
An Qi, a mentor studying a Bachelor of Biomedical Science placed with Coodanup College said at the conclusion of the pilot, “It was definitely a great experience for me. I could see that both my student mentees and I have developed new skills throughout the program. I developed better organisational, communication and leadership skills. They gained awareness of pathways that are available to them, study tips and science careers. My mentees made my time really enjoyable as an eMentor. I could see that they all shined in their own way and developed more interest in entering university and the science field. I believe our positive interactions during the program really helped us achieve more than what we expected. We frequently communicated about high school experience and future aspirations. The bond we made definitely helped us open up and learn from each other.”
In2science is delighted that our highly trained mentors can spark enthusiasm for STEM study and careers in a growing number of secondary school students around the country. In2science is exceedingly grateful to the Aspire program team and the Alcoa Foundation for their outstanding execution of, and support for, this important initiative.