Mentoring program shows students you don’t need to be Einstein to study STEM

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A new generation of thinkers and innovators will get a taste of what it’s like to study Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) alongside real academics in the second year of a university mentoring program. 

Students from Casuarina Senior College in the Northern Territory toured the science and technology facilities at the Casuarina campus of Charles Darwin University (CDU) this week for the beginning of CDU and Inspired NT’s Stage 2 Real Science Program. 

The initiative will see post-graduate students act as mentors to students from Casuarina Senior College and Darwin High School for the next seven months, guiding them through STEM-related projects from planning and execution to presenting. 

Exploring STEM study pathways

The secondary school students will experience what it’s like to study at university, as well as learn about the range of tertiary pathways open to them and develop confidence in themselves and their abilities.

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For the post-graduate students, the experience offers the mentoring opportunity to practice leadership and supervision skills, time-management, empathy and flexibility.

CDU PhD students Cedric Tan and Girum Gebremeskel Kanno are among this year’s mentors, and both were eager to share their knowledge and their personal and academic journeys into STEM.

Mr Tan’s research involves developing and testing metals to reduce their damage within corrosive environments.  Mr Kanno is exploring how Artificial Intelligence (AI) can be integrated into the environmental life cycle assessment of healthcare plastic wastes. 

“I’m hoping the students will realise that science isn’t necessarily scary,” Mr Tan says. 

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“It’s a very involved experience. It’s a lot of problem-solving and being sure you’re engaged but if you can find something you’re passionate about, you’re going to get something out of it.”

“STEM can be for everyone”

STEM, says Mr Karino, “can be for everyone, and it should be fun”.

“People might assume science is hard but so long as you’re interested, you can easily challenge and solve complex problems. We live in a world full of environmental problems and we need more people with a different approach to solving these problems,” he says.

Program coordinator and CDU Senior Lecturer in STEM Pathways Dr Carla Eisemberg hopes students would learn how science is an accessible pathway. 

“The idea you need to be an Einstein to be doing STEM is wrong,” Dr Eisemberg says.

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“We need people with everyday skills to become scientists and engineers, because we need people who have different ways of thinking. There is no innovation without diversity.”

“We’re creating an opportunity for our post-graduate students to interact with high school students in a safe way that high school students will learn what university feels like, and at the same time our post-grad students can kickstart their careers as mentors and supervisors.” 

Mentoring supports academic success

Former Casuarina Senior College student Jessie Duncan participated in last year’s program and is now studying a Bachelor of Environmental Sciences at CDU. 

“The program opened my eyes to how many opportunities I have in this field, what I want to experience and how in depth I can go with research,” she says. 

“It doesn’t matter how much knowledge of science you already have. You learn everything you need as you go and it’s so beneficial.” 

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Casuarina Senior College teacher Gregg Barker said last year’s students were involved in a variety of projects, including using Microsoft Hololens mixed reality in STEM education, identifying the best growing environment for mushrooms, and dismantling and rebuilding a lawnmower engine.

“Working with a mentor from outside school provided students with new technical perspectives, helped them to become more confident and professional communicators, developed their ICT skills using MS Teams, and facilitated their planning, problem-solving and independent learning skills,” Mr Barker says.

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