For the first time, students from as far as Alice Springs and Darwin have travelled to Adelaide for ‘hands-on’ STEM experiences to ‘be inspired’ by science, math and other subjects. 

The interstate excursions have been assisted by $65,000 in scholarship assistance awarded to a range of NT and SA regional schools as part of the Flinders University Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship (WiSE) goal of introducing a further 1000 high school students and their teachers to high-tech, engineering and other pathways. 

Now in its fifth year, the annual Flinders University STEM conference (which started on Tuesday, June 18 and finishes today) aims to provide Year 9 students with new understanding of STEM education and workplace options before they make their subject selection at senior secondary school level, STEM Enrichment Academy director Professor Maria Parappilly said.  

Parappilly is chief investigator of the Federal Government’s WiSE grant program, which in its second phase is targeting a further 1000 SA and NT schoolgirls from regional and remote areas to engage in the Flinders STEM enrichment program by 2025. 

“Already since May last year we have ‘enriched’ 500 schoolgirls as part of the Phase II targets and are delighted to be inundated with applications from rural and remote schools alongside strong interest from metropolitan schools to support our growing program,” Parappilly, a physics professor, said. 

“Several of our NT applications state the students are interested in enrolling to study engineering, hoping to use this experience to start their STEM studies to find a career in areas of high demand and high pay.” 

The STEM enrichment groups have already included hundreds of schoolgirls who have been encouraged to increase STEM subject enrolment and outcomes in senior secondary school, and then through to university and tertiary level. 

Engineering has one of the lowest female representations of the STEM professions, with women comprising just 16 per cent of Australian engineering graduates and 13 per cent of the Australian engineering workforce. 

Today an additional 80 students from St Dominic Priory School headed to Flinders’ Bedford Park campus for the STEM experience, and in August, 140 schoolgirls from another metropolitan school are due to attend enrichment days.   

As well as 50 NT students, there are 80 SA regional students, including from Port Lincoln, Millicent and Kadina along with13 Indigenous students from the SA country areas, Kaurna Plains Schools and the NT.   

Darwin Middle School teacher Prue Rathborne said the 15 young women selected to attend the three-day workshop (at Flinders) were excited by the life-changing opportunity that will facilitate their growth and development in STEM fields. 

“As an educator, it has been inspiring to witness how an opportunity can positively shape the confidence and attitudes of young women towards their futures in STEM disciplines,” she said.

Darwin Middle School principal Ben McCasker said the trip to Adelaide has “unleashed the possibilities to our students, as they have immersed themselves in a truly rich experience” .

The WiSE grant scheme is run by the Australian Government Department of Industry, Science and Resources. 

Previous STEM enrichment groups, from the first phase of the Flinders program, reached hundreds of schoolgirls who were encouraged to increase STEM subject enrolment and outcomes in senior secondary school, and then through to university and tertiary level.