Researching International Best Practices for STEM Engagement

Contributed by Sarah Chapman

I grew up in a rural part of North Queensland, Australia. I was one of those kids that was interested in questioning things and finding out about the wonders of nature. I struggled as I got older to connect with opportunities to grow my interest in science but had a wonderful science teacher who inspired my interests as much as he could. I managed to follow my passion and study a science degree. I completed my honours in cell death following traumatic brain injury. I worked in research and then progressed to science communication and event management.

Following this I studied to become a teacher. I connected with an opportunity to inspire young people every day. It is a challenging occupation but a tremendously rewarding one, when you get to be the person that connects a young person with science. To see their eyes light up and connect with the wonder of science is truly amazing and necessary to inspire and empower our problem solvers of tomorrow.

My passion is engaging and empowering young people in STEM, and as a science educator, it is what I aim to do each day. To be selected to visit key drivers and organisations doing worlds-best STEM engagement was beyond exciting and a life changing experience.

It was both an honour and a privilege to be selected as one of the inaugural Barbara Cail STEM Fellows and supported by the Australian Government, in partnership with Chief Executive Women Ltd, to research international best practice into STEM engagement.

My Fellowship began with extensive research of best practice around the world and putting together my itinerary for organisations that were on the top of my STEM engagement wish list. This endeavour alone was inspiring to read about so many initiatives across the globe doing great things in STEM engagement.

I travelled to Singapore, Finland, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and New Zealand as a part of my Fellowship research. I visited industry, STEM peak bodies, businesses, museums, science centres and schools as a part of my research.

It was certainly a highlight to hear about the great work being done at the National Girls Collaborative Project. It is extraordinary what can be achieved when invested people come together from across the STEM landscape to provide opportunity, programs, connections and mentoring for underrepresented groups, in particular girls. The National Girls Collaborative Project, along with the exceptional work of The Connectory, are highlighted as a case study in the Fellowship report, Engaging the Future of STEM.

The resounding learning I personally took away from my Fellowship research is the importance of connection, and the bringing together of each sector of the STEM ecosystem. This brings about perspective and informs a clear vision. The next important component is communication between each sector of the STEM ecosystem, to strengthen connections and grow, along with the importance of positive and enabling communication to young people, absent of unconscious bias. Connection, communication and the third being collaboration where people work together, sharing their strengths to influence and grow the STEM ecosystem. These were the key to all of the successful STEM organisations I had the pleasure of visiting. Where these components were done well, STEM engagement was successful.

Sarah Chapman Panelist

Sarah Chapman with panelists at the report launch.

The report Engaging the Future of STEM outlines:

  • detailed benchmarks for a successful and sustainable STEM program,
  • the key enablers for engaging girls in STEM, including hyperlinks to useful resources
  • case studies of successful STEM organisations from across stakeholder groups and strategies for engaging girls and women, and
  • 8 key recommendations for advising Australia's STEM engagement strategy. These findings are relevant to other countries. 

“Engaging the Future of STEM: study of international best practice for promoting the participation of young people, particularly girls, in science, technology engineering and Maths (STEM), conducted by Barbara Cail STEM Fellows (Sarah Chapman and Dr Rebecca Vivian) was funded and supported by the Australian Government in partnership with Chief Executive Women Ltd”. For the full report Engaging the Future of STEM, please click on the link https://cew.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Engaging-the-future-of-STEM.pdf

Sarah Chapman is the Head of Department of Science at Townsville State High School, North Queensland, Australia. Sarah is passionate about inspiring, engaging and empowering people through STEM, to build lifelong connections with the dynamic possibilities of STEM.

Sarah lifts the profile of STEM in the community, as an Executive Committee member of Women in STEMM Australia and Vice President of the Queensland Science Teachers Association.

Sarah won a Barbara Cail STEM Fellowship in 2016, which involved international travel to research best practice in engaging young people into STEM. Sarah was awarded the 2013 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Secondary Science Teaching.