YEAR 11 LAURA MACKAY SAYS STEM is SMART
by Kate O’Mara
“Studying STEM is smart”, according to All Saints’ St Mary’s Maitland student Laura Mackay, “because it’s going to be in all our everyday jobs and gives us so many career choices.”
Speaking as part of the Hunter’s first ever student panel at RDA Hunter’s 2019 STEM Workforce Conference, Laura was ‘on the money’ according to the event’s other international and national expert presenters. Representatives from organisations like the OECD, Siemens, Lockheed Martin Australia and NSW Health Pathology all pointed to science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) as being essential knowledge for the transformation to a technology-based economy.
The annual STEM workforce development conference helps RDA Hunter support economic growth in the region by building partnerships with industry, government and education to grow a local workforce with the skills and knowledge needed for the future.
The 2019 Conference examined next generation skills – what they are, what they mean for industry and how we ensure our young people have them. Of course, this theme lent itself to hearing directly from our next generation. So, student representatives from Hunter primary and secondary schools, TAFE NSW and University of Newcastle chatted with Conference facilitator Jan Owen AM about their hopes and dreams for the future, their ideal workplace environment and what they’d like us as parents, employers and their mentors to understand. They were honest, impressive and motivating and their message was simple – they want to be understood.
I recently spoke with Laura about her involvement in RDA Hunter’s ME Program activities and her participation in the Conference, Laura reflected that it was a daunting but valuable learning experience for her. “I was honoured to be asked by my school to participate in the Conference. I was nervous about being in front of a room full of important business leaders and the media, but it was a great opportunity to help them understand a young person’s perspective. It’s really exciting to have young people involved in these types of events.” she said.
Laura’s passion for STEM and excitement about the opportunities it presents are obvious. She is focused and dedicated and is diligently pursuing her dream of becoming either a bio-medical engineer or joining ADFA. She cites her parents, teachers and her positive school environment as catalysts for her success to date.
Laura’s interest in science and technology started early. She enjoyed it in her primary and junior high school years and found she had a talent for it so chose to study iSTEM in years 9 and 10.
Breaking down the silos of science, technology, engineering and maths and encouraging students to solve real-world problems in groups, iSTEM teaches students the fundamentals of STEM in a hands-on and practical way. It was developed as part of RDA Hunter’s ME Program to help improve students’ workplace preparation in response to Hunter industry’s requirements. iSTEM teaches technical as well as work-readiness skills and relies on industry involvement for its relevant and contextualised curriculum.
“iSTEM was fun. It was different to normal school subjects because we spent more time collaborating with one another and the teacher, to come up with solutions to problems together. It helped us apply the maths and science theory we were learning but it also helped us understand how a real team works and how important skills like communication really are,“ Laura said.
iSTEM’s value was reinforced for Laura when she dived into the subject’s major project. Tasked with developing a solution to a real-world problem using STEM skills, Laura chose to put her interest in bio-medical engineering into practice and developed a 3D printed prosthetic hand called Simon Signs. Combining knowledge from core science and maths studies, Laura’s prosthetic hand was developed to demonstrate sign language.
“I was really happy that my hand worked! It took some time and a few attempts to get it to do what I wanted it to do but it was worth it. With the help of Mr Jordan, I was putting into practice what I’d learnt in maths and science and adding more knowledge along the way because I had to solve problems that came up. It was fun and I’m pretty proud of the result.”
Now in year 11, Laura is continuing her focus on STEM subjects. Concentrating on maths, science and engineering, she is again involved in an RDA Hunter initiative to help prepare her for a successful STEM career. STEM Defence + Innovation invites students who participated in iSTEM during years 9 and 10 to develop their prototypes further by undertaking a professional commercialisation program.
STEM Defence + Innovation was created by RDA Hunter to help advance innovation and highlight the importance of getting new ideas to market. Following a 2018 pilot with St Philips Christian College Waratah that saw three students sell their ideas to defence prime contractors, the program has expanded and this year includes 12 students from All Saints’ St Mary’s Maitland, St Philips Christian College Waratah, Newcastle Grammar School and West Wallsend High School.
Delivered by The Business Centre, the business awareness part of the program is a springboard to commercialising students’ prototypes. For Laura and her colleagues, it kicked off with a three-day commercialisation boot camp, the Business Model Canvas, that saw students learn techniques to hone their prototypes as well as their pitching skills. The program will culminate with students pitching their concepts before industry leaders, peers and family at a live event on 25th July.
“I’m really lucky to be part of STEM Defence + Innovation. We were given the same information as The Business Centre’s real clients so the skills I learnt will definitely help me in the future. Commercialising our ideas is an involved process and this program helped me understand it better. I’m really grateful to have had the opportunity.” Laura said.
Laura’s studies have also been bolstered by work placement experience at Boeing Defence Australia (BDA). Visiting the Defence prime contractor’s Williamtown facility for one week on-the-job as part of RDA Hunter’s STEM-Ex, Laura was exposed to the company’s engineering facilities and had a first-hand look at being an engineer.
All Saints’ College Maitland, St Mary’s Campus Careers Adviser, Lyn McKendry said, “We are thrilled to be able to offer our students so many worthwhile experiences that help them develop clear pathways to careers here in the region.
“Working with RDA Hunter to match the right students with the right opportunities has created an excitement around STEM. It’s opened doors for our students and it’s encouraged them to work hard to reach their goals.”