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It’s a sad reality: regional students all too often miss out on important educational opportunities that their peers in the city get to enjoy. When it comes to STEM outreach, many programs are run out of capital cities, which means regional school students can easily be overlooked. Or, as those programs often rely on volunteer facilitators from the city, it can mean that the extra travel required is simply too big of a hurdle to overcome.

In 2022 STEM x Changemakers, a new initiative of University of Technology Sydney’s Women in Engineering and IT (WiEIT) and EWB Australia, with support from the Caterpillar Foundation, launched with a mission to change that.

Collaborating for impact

WiEIT and EWB Australia both have existing outreach programs that aim to increase diversity in the STEM disciplines by showcasing the possibilities available to groups that are currently underrepresented in the field. Through this shared purpose, and the EWB Australia University of Technology Sydney Chapter, they’ve formed close ties and a healthy history of working together.

So, when the time came to develop a program that would open outreach opportunities up to regional school students, WiEIT and EWB Australia decided to harness each other’s strengths. It was a partnership that made sense, because both learning providers were aware of the dedication required to build long-term impact in increasing diversity in STEM.

As a joint initiative, STEM x Changemakers could hit the ground running with quality, relevant content and leverage strong links to industry and a driven national network of volunteers. Combining resources has also assisted in making the most of existing relationships in the education sector, which proved useful in driving interest during the program’s launch year.

The STEM x Changemakers program is delivered by volunteer facilitators from EWB Australia’s industry partners and network of university student chapter members, who are each trained in facilitation and delivery. 

“Working with school communities, industry and university students over time allows us to bring resources and innovation where they’re really needed – that’s what change looks like from our perspective.” – Dr. Marco Angelini, Outreach Co-ordinator – UTS, Women in Engineering and IT

The three workshops that are currently on offer to schools have been designed to be particularly relevant to regional students:

  • Drones for Disaster Relief: Students explore the common issues faced during times of a natural disaster such as information, access, supply and rescue, and design solutions that utilise drone technology to improve the ability of humanitarian services in mitigating the impacts.
  • Natural Disaster Resistant Structures: Tasked with developing a housing proposal for a specific context that aims to minimise the impact of natural disasters on housing, students develop prototypes using a combination of practical and system-level techniques.
  • Improved Mobility Design Challenge: With a particular focus on endemic issues faced by remote communities, students design solutions to improve mobility and access for communities with diverse backgrounds.

The content is curriculum-integrated, so that schools can provide students with an engaging, novel way to explore STEM that aligns and integrates with school priorities and timelines, instead of adding to their existing work. There’s no barrier to access, as no cost is passed on to schools.

An accessible blended model

Across six sessions, students learn about the project context, design and prototype solutions, test and evaluate, and then present back to their peers. The program features a mix of in-person and online facilitation, which allows students to benefit from a deep multi-session program whilst enabling volunteer facilitators to contribute around their work or study commitments.

Classroom teachers are provided training specific to facilitating the workshops, as well as professional development on the topics of emerging STEM pathways and inclusivity in engineering. This ‘train the trainer’ approach is a key part of the program’s design, as it enables teachers to provide support in the classroom during the sessions where the volunteer facilitators are online and to continue discussions with their students beyond the program.

The first year of STEM x Changemakers focused on schools in New South Wales and received strong demand, with Trinity College in Goulburn, St Matthews Catholic School in Mudgee and Crookwell High School the first to participate. The program received encouraging feedback, with a majority of participating students showing measurable learning improvements.

After reflecting on the successes and scope for improvement, preparations are now underway to scale up in 2023, with plans to expand into Victoria.

If you’re interested in booking a STEM x Changemakers workshop for your school, please contact Joshua Macleod, EWB Australia’s STEM Pathways Lead at j.macleod@ewb.org.au and Dr Marco Angelini, UTS Project Coordinator at marco.angelini@uts.edu.au.

If you would like to support EWB’s work in increasing diversity in engineering, please donate here.

EWB Australia and WiEIT would like to thank Caterpillar Foundation for their support of STEM x Changemakers.