Stepping up with STEM

Engineers Australia spoke to some of the volunteers involved with the Queensland division’s STEM programs about why it is important to help young people have a thorough understanding of the engineering profession.
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14 May 2021

Volunteers Australia estimates nearly six million people across the country dedicate more than 600 million hours to helping others yearly.

Volunteers Week 2021 is all about recognising these volunteers' vital roles in our society, reconnecting with what is important, and reimagining how to better support communities and the volunteers themselves.

Volunteers are an integral part of the Engineers Australia Queensland team and across the state, each college and society is committed to supporting the engineering community.

Over the course of this year, the division has been part of two key events which have supported and promoted STEM careers to secondary students. At these events Engineers Australia members have volunteered to raise the profile of the engineering profession with the next generation.

Dream big: engineering our world

One of Engineers Australia Queensland’s flagship STEM programs is the Dream big: engineering our world events.

Organised by Engineers Australia, this event is run in collaboration with universities across the state. School students, from the ages of 8-13, spend an afternoon watching the ‘Engineering Our World’ film before exploring hands on engineering activities and asking professional engineers questions about their work.

Engineers Australia graduate member Stacey Lindsay recently volunteered, alongside fellow student member Hannah Wilson, at the Dream Big event hosted at the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC).

Stacey recognised that when she was choosing her career pathway at school, she didn’t have a wide understanding of all the facets within the engineering profession.

Being successful at maths and science was the main reason Stacey got into engineering and as a graduate she has since worked in environmental planning, water quality and sustainability initiatives at Unity Water.

“It was pretty cool for me to get that perspective at the Dream Big event, which wasn’t something I ever had when I was choosing where I wanted to direct my career. So to be involved with kids who are at that early stage in their career was great and inspired me in a way,” she said.

“I think it would be really cool if there was more understanding and awareness for young people to direct themselves into engineering.”

Hannah had a non-traditional path into engineering, initially studying subjects like media at high school, she found a love for maths and decided to begin an environmental and water major at USC to use her mathematics skills.

She was able to answer questions from children and parents alike about being a woman in engineering and what subjects to study throughout school.

“One of the kids at the event asked me, what buildings have you built? That is why it’s so important to help kids understand what engineering really is because they kind of just think engineering is building, but it's so much more than that,” Hannah says.

“I like the purpose of educating younger kids about engineering because when I was younger, I definitely wouldn’t have gone for it unless one of my teachers guided me that way. It’s a profession that younger kids aren’t aware of and one they don’t understand as much as they would teaching for instance.”

The Engineering Link Project

Engineers Australia also works closely with The Engineering Link Group, to run two-day STEM programs hosted by local universities.

The programs give students the opportunity to be mentored by professional engineers from different disciplines. Students are run through model programs and practical tasks in order to get a deeper understanding of the profession.

Cait Thomas, Chair of the Engineers Australia College of Biomedical Engineers (QLD) put her hand up to help run the biomedical workshop at the Queensland University of Technology.

Cait currently works as a Senior Quality Engineer at ResApp Health, where the team works on machine learning algorithms to identify respiratory disease through a phone application.

“At the workshop we took students through examples that I remember from university that were applicable in the real world. I was also able to provide context as to which engineering principals are applicable in my every day job as a medical engineer.”

For one of the practical exercises the students were given a fake skull that had a defect. Through 3D and CAD modelling, students were able to come up with a solution to fill in the missing section of bone, their solutions were then 3D printed and used to fill in the defect.

“I was seriously impressed at what 15 and 16-year olds came up with for these kinds of complex problems. I hope doing programs like these creates curiosity for the students, sometimes that is all you need.”

Tara Manning, A/Principal Category Lead (Capex and Major Construction) at Brisbane City Council helped to run the civil engineering Q&A and workshop at one of the Engineering Link Programs.

Tara has been working in civil engineering for the past seven years and studied engineering as a mature age student.

For the civil workshop students had to build a retaining wall out of sugar and sand and see if it could hold their weight while standing on top.

“It was quite exciting to see how the students tackled the retaining wall challenge,” Tara said.

“It stuck out to me how intelligent the kids are at such a young age.”

Engineers Australia Queensland Division General Manager Stacey Rawlings said getting young people involved in STEM is crucial to profession.

“There is a lot of energy invested in STEM education in Queensland, which is supported by many volunteers as it helps more students to visualise engineering as an exciting profession. It is always great to see how energised the volunteers are after being able to participate in any of the STEM activities,” she said.

To express your interest in future STEM education activities in Queensland, register your interest.