128 schoolgirls tackle gender gap at national STEM camps

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Superstars of STEM join biggest-ever mentoring programs for girls.

128 schoolgirls from across Australia, including 90 from regional towns in every State and Territory, have been selected to participate in the biggest ever Curious Minds program that immerses underrepresented girls in six months of extension learning and mentoring in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

Jointly delivered by The Australian Maths Trust (AMT) and Australian Science Innovations (ASI), Curious Minds participants are selected based on their performance in three high school-based science, informatics and mathematics competitions. Preference is also given to students from regional and rural communities and schools at the lower scale of socio-educational advantage, with more than 70 per cent of the students selected this year from regional and remote Australia.

These high-potential year 9 and 10 students are taking part in two camps to explore all aspects of STEM through lectures, experiments, workshops, coaching and networking, all delivered for the first time online.

“This year we are reaching twice as many high potential girls in regional Australia, and we expect to once again see a clear link between participation and increasing girls’ confidence in STEM at this critical age,” said Ruth Carr, Executive Director of Australian Science Innovations.

“As the latest Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) results for Australian high school students attest, the gender gap in some areas of STEM has little to do with classroom performance and much more to do with access for girls to STEM workforce role models and more exposure to STEM careers, said Carr.

Curious Minds gives participants access to STEM role models by matching students with female mentors working in traditionally male-dominated careers. This year’s mentors include three current Superstars of STEM and a diverse mix of engineers, physicists, mathematicians, research and medical scientists, medical practitioners, chemists, geologists and environmental scientists.

“This program switches girls on to all aspects of STEM, exposes them to outstanding role models, and brings girls together in an extension learning environment where they get to know other young women like themselves who are passionate about STEM,” said program director Dr Kelsie Dadd.

Students participate in intensive modules of learning across physics, digital technology, chemistry, biology, mathematics, engineering and Earth and environmental science. They will work with their mentors on projects over a six-month period.

“With $2.35 million in funding for the Curious Minds program from the Australian Government for 2020–2024, we have been able to expand the number of girls participating in this exciting program and deliver Curious Minds East Coast and Curious Minds West Coast,” said Nathan Ford, AMT CEO.

The program will help counter declining year 12 enrolments in traditional sciences and advanced mathematics by increasing girls’ opportunities to excel in STEM subjects.

Curious Minds is funded by the Department of Education, Skills and Employment and is supported by the ANU and 3M.