There’s no doubt that ‘women in STEM’ is a topical subject. From Vogue’s Vogue Codes Live 2018 event held in Sydney in June to the Prime Minister’s announcement of a national Women in Science Ambassador position at this year’s International Women’s Day celebrations, the theme is recurrent – diversifying STEM careers is critical and inspiring girls and women to realise their potential in the field has never been more important.
Regional Development Australia (RDA) Hunter via its ME Program has been working since 2009 to expand and diversify the cohort of Hunter region (NSW) students studying science, technology engineering and maths (STEM) in preparation for defence careers – and it’s been quietly making inroads.
Figures recently released by the economic development agency show that enrolments in Engineering Studies by year 11 female students at its Hunter region partner schools have increased from 1.4% in 2016 to 2.6% in 2018. Both well above the NSW average of 0.3%.
“We are delighted to see a marked increase in the participation of girls in our programs. Of note is the number of girls that have enrolled in Engineering Studies in 2018.” said RDA Hunter’s STEM Workforce Manager, Rick Evans.
“These results are a reflection of the programs we’re currently implementing. Programs like Tech Girls are SuperHeroes and sheflies that have been specifically designed by professional ‘STEM women’ to inspire girls to elect STEM subjects, as well as to help them understand the industry applications of them.” continued Mr Evans.
The ME Program currently partners with 47 Hunter high schools. Of these, eight are considered Group One. Analysis of data reveal significant achievements in the participation of female students in the Group One cohort of 1,389 students:
• Enrolments in year 11 Engineering Studies have increased from 1.4% in 2016 to 2.6% in 2018 – both well above the NSW average of 0.3%, which has been stable since 2016;
• Enrolments in Year 11 two-unit Maths have increased from 15% in 2016 to 21% in 2018; and
• Maths Ext 1 enrolments are comparable with the NSW average at 6%.
The ME Program is part of RDA Hunter’s STEM Workforce Initiative, which delivers life-stage specific education programs to create a pipeline of opportunities and activities for students from eight years of age to 18, in preparation for STEM careers.
The ME Program facilitates formal partnerships between Hunter industry and high schools to make curriculum more workplace-relevant and build awareness of defence industry career pathways. It has a strong focus on developing STEM skills in students from years nine to 12 in readiness for the jobs that industry will require in the future.
The ME Program also works to diversify the cohort studying STEM and, in particular, aims to promote the defence sector opportunities available to girls. Participation in programs such as Tech Girls are SuperHeroes, sheflies, STEM-Ex and Aerospace Industry Careers Days is a critical component of ME delivering an increase in the number of girls studying STEM and considering careers in defence industry.