19 September 2022

Program opens 'curious minds' to a world of STEM possibilities and career opportunities

| Evelyn Karatzas
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Curious Minds

ACT students at the 2022/2023 Curious Minds program launch. Photo: Alyssa Weirman.

An in-school mentor program is changing the future face of Science, Technologies, Engineering and Maths (STEM) industries by guiding young girls into the once male-dominated field. And it’s already making a difference.

Since 2014, the six-month program – Curious Minds – has sought to break down the barriers of male-dominated fields and provide year 9 and 10 girls living outside major cities and not having the same access to facilities or opportunities as others with the chance to experience life in STEM.

Australian Science Innovations (ASI) executive director Alyssa Weirman said STEM hasn’t always been seen as a career that women could enter.

“The idea behind it is to support girls to build their confidence and see themselves in a STEM career,” she said.

“By matching girls with female mentors studying or working in STEM and providing first-hand advice on the multitude of opportunities available to them, Curious Minds is helping to change perceptions and level the playing field for girls who might otherwise miss out on rewarding careers in STEM.

“We have had a really positive response from the school students who have participated in the Curious Minds program. It’s a really wonderful thing to be able to see that you’re having such a positive impact on girls’ lives or their direction on how they see themselves and seeing them grow their perspectives as to what is possible.”

Since 2015, 33 students from ACT schools alone have been involved in Curious Minds, and 520 students have participated since the program began in 2014.

The results are impressive: 78 per cent of participants said they intended to pursue a STEM career.

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The initiative was developed by the Department of Education, the Australian Science Innovations and the Australian Maths Trust, with support from the Australian National University (ANU).

Year 10 student Sofia began her Curious Minds journey when she took the Computational and Algorithmic Thinking (CAT) test at school.

“In October last year, my maths coordinator told me I had been identified as one of the top performers in the CAT competition, so Curious Minds invited me to participate in their program.

“I ended up applying and got a position. I had my first camp in December and second in June this year.”

The 15-year-old said that Curious Minds was all about covering every aspect of STEM and exposing students to as many different areas as possible while pairing them with a successful woman or mentor for the next six months.

Sofia was paired with a geoscientist as a mentor and they would catch up once every three weeks over Zoom.

“Throughout the program, you also get the chance to work on a STEM project on any topic you can think of,” Sofia said.

“Your coach then helps you brainstorm ideas and make a presentation at the end of the six-month program.

“They also give you advice about potential career paths.”

curious minds

Curious Minds students on camp with their mentors. Photo: Alyssa Weirman.

Sofia said her experience with Curious Minds was amazing, but the coaching program stood out the most.

“My coach was just such a lovely person. She taught me so much,” she said.

“Curious Minds has given me so much more confidence in my abilities, and I am grateful that I now know that there’s a whole world out there of STEM possibilities and career opportunities.”

Curious Minds

School girls involved in the STEM program. Photo: Alyssa Weirman.

Another student invited to join the Curious Minds program in December after performing well in the CAT competition is year 10 student, Emily.

The 15-year-old girl said she had never heard about the program before being asked to participate.

“In school, I’ve always liked maths and science, so I thought I’d give Curious Minds a go,” Emily said.

“I thought it was really good because it was very different from liking STEM at school as we got to look at STEM in more depth and I gained a lot more knowledge overall.

“[Curious Minds] has opened me up to a whole new world of jobs that I didn’t really know existed before. It’s given me a better understanding of what’s out there.”

Emily said she felt lucky to be a part of the program.

“I would definitely suggest others apply for it. It’s great to be able to connect with other girls with similar interests and learn about everyone else’s projects,” she said.

“When I went into the program, I knew I liked maths more, and in the end, it turned out that I liked science more.

“To me, maths has always been straightforward; it’s either right or wrong. With science, this program helped me discover that science was really interesting, especially when it comes to understanding the world. I thought that was quite cool.”

Like Sofia, the program opened Emily’s eyes to a life in STEM.

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Ms Weirman said in the current intake, they are looking for applications from “students and mentors with an interest in physics, IT, maths, engineering and informatics – subjects that have particularly low rates of female participation”.

“We would also love more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and mentors to benefit from the program,” she said.

Registrations are now open for the 2022-2023 Curious Minds intake for year 9 and 10 girls. Applications close on 30 September. You can register here. To find out more, visit Curious Minds.

Original Article published by Evelyn Karatzas on Riotact.

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