Sarah’s quest to celebrate STEM in North Queensland

Issued: 25 October 2018

“When I was a teenager there were very few STEM activities to do outside of school. Today, in North Queensland, there are significantly more opportunities. However, in comparison to capital cities in Australia and overseas we can do better to provide resources, events and spaces that elevate STEM and promote engagement across the community. The melting pot of talent and expertise in North Queensland can be harnessed and grown.”

Sarah Chapman, the Head of Department of Science at Townsville State High School in North Queensland.

Meet Sarah Chapman, the Head of Department of Science at Townsville State High School in North Queensland.

Sarah has been teaching for 15 years and is passionate about inspiring, engaging and empowering people through science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

She is a new STEM Ambassador, selected by Science and Technology Australia (STA).

We had the pleasure of asking Sarah about her sterling STEM work in North Queensland and her views on the direction STEM engagement needs to take in the coming years.

What do you love about teaching STEM?

“It’s a challenging occupation but a tremendously rewarding one when you become the one who connects a young person with science.

Sarah in the classroom

“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.”

What are your thoughts on the STEM Ambassador Program?

“The STEM Ambassador Program is imperative in this vast country that we live in. It links Members of Parliament (MPs) with STEM professionals in their local electorate. This provides STEM Ambassadors with the opportunity to promote the program and connect these MPs to local STEM developments and achievements.

“We have a wealth of STEM expertise that could be better championed and there’s great potential from future collaboration and partnerships in our country.

“I am so humbled to be chosen as a STEM Ambassador. I look to promote STEM wherever I go and see great potential for what can be achieved in my region of Australia. I look forward to being a voice and connector and working with my local federal MP. I hope to be able to elevate STEM in regional Australia as well as nationally.”

What’s your involvement in the Townsville STEM Hub?

“I was instrumental in setting up the Townsville STEM Hub — the first regional STEM Hub in Australia. This was achieved following the Prime Minister’s Science Prize Award ceremony in 2013. Being in Canberra and meeting so many influential people, I saw it as chance to promote and advocate for my region.

“I spoke and emailed as many politicians, STEM experts and communicators as possible to pitch my idea of a STEM Hub. We have extraordinary world-recognised STEM research, industries and businesses in North Queensland and I decided it was time to champion what we were doing.

“I connected with Inspiring Australia in 2014, followed by local meetings to focus on developing STEM community engagement as well as increasing students’ skills and engagement and providing teacher professional development.

“The Townsville STEM Hub has facilitated a number of great initiatives, including the recent Townsville STEM Faire held in August. It was a great success engaging over 1600 people from the community.

“We had STEM workshops from Engineers without Borders, Stories Galore and a range of community organisations. The community loved flying drones, interacting with robots and hearing from internationally-renowned science communicator, Dr Graham Walker.”

What’s the future of STEM in regional North Queensland?

“I believe that more needs to be done to develop the pathways and job opportunities in STEM.

“Organisations are seeing the impending problems with skills shortages in the STEM workforce and are working to address the current issues.

“I am a firm believer that we need to shift our focus. To use an example, if you look at our current focus, we are looking at trying to conserve the forest. Instead, I believe we need to focus on the newly planted seeds, our young people. We need to ensure we’re engaging them in STEM, promoting and celebrating STEM in our community so it is second nature.

“We need to build connections between educators and research, industry and business that enable seamless transitions and ensure authentic learning experiences are available. Focusing on those newly planted seeds means we will grow strong and prosperous forests of tomorrow, where STEM is a household word, just like Google.

“We need many minds to collaborate together to meet the growing needs of the workforce, and we need many faces to tell the human story behind the impact STEM makes. This needs to reach our community and especially our young people. Championing the brilliant achievements of our STEM community must happen to promote engagement and pave a pathway for our young people to aspire to in the future.”