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Publication Date: 
April 2019
Case study from: Advancing Women in STEM

With the support of a WISE Grant, Education Changemakers ran five face-to-face WISE Changemakers workshops in 2017 for 30 female educators across Victoria with the aim of increasing the engagement and retention of girls in STEM. At the end of the program Education Changemakers and the program participants awarded two grants to the educators to pursue their project ideas through a peer review process.

One grant recipient was Leanne Smith, founder of ECO Inquire – a specialist education provider. Ms Smith’s current work entails delivering STEM incursions for K-12 students that meet NSW and Victorian curriculum requirements and providing high quality professional development opportunities for teachers and pre-service teachers across STEM disciplines.

‘In my role as an educator within the Albury-Wodonga region, I noted that early, positive exposure to STEM played a critical role in recruiting and retaining girls and underrepresented groups in STEM. I recognised the need for industry and schools to partner in order to support teachers with relevant methods and information and enable young people to pursue their interest and gain a greater understand of what STEM entails.’

The Changemakers Program offered Ms Smith tools for professional development including coaching, mentoring and case studies to implement an initiative for change.

‘My involvement in the Changemakers workshops was a career defining experience. It was here, among the “thinkers, achievers and changemakers” that I was inspired to launch the SySTEM Connect project and step up in a leadership journey,’ says Ms Smith. SySTEM Connect is on an online platform that enables educators to seek STEM role models and mentors for their students, introducing them to relatable and diverse role models within the Albury/Wodonga community.

‘Alongside study, exposure to industry role models is important to helping shape students life choices. We often encourage our students, children and grandchildren to follow their passion. But how do young people find out what they are passionate about?,” says Ms Smith. ‘It is important for girls to have the opportunity to meet industry-based role models whose roles they can identify with and aspire to. Female role models can enhance STEM visibility, counter girls’ misconceptions and expose girls to a wide range of study options and career possibilities.’

‘SySTEM Connect has had a profound positive ripple within organisations just as much as it has within school communities,’ says Ms Smith. ‘STEM professionals have relished the opportunity to showcase their work and have their passion for STEM emulated by students. The honest and encouraging messages of STEM experts has gone a long way in changing student’s perceptions about future study possibilities.’

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