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By Holly Stemm 24 February 2022 3 min read

©  Nick Pitsas

Megan is one of over 1200 professionals currently participating in our STEM Professionals in Schools program, which is supported by the Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment.

She has had a varied career – from groundwater hydrology research to consulting. She currently manages CSIRO’s Kick-Start program. The program provides start-ups and small businesses with funding support and facilitates access to our research expertise and facilities. 

“I never envisioned myself as a scientist,” said Megan, who had a lightbulb moment when her high school career advisor suggested that a science degree could give her a lot of flexibility to go into science or management. 

Fast forward to today, and Megan hopes to help students have lightbulb moments of their own through STEM programs in schools.

Using real-world STEM to inspire students

Megan gets students thinking about the purpose and application of STEM topics beyond the textbooks. 

She recently shared her experiences with Year 9 and 10 students at Footscray High School’s ‘Meet a Scientist' event. Students got to hear all about Megan's career. Additionally, they also learned that science can provide the means to solve issues they are passionate about.

In her case, a family trip to New Zealand’s Franz Josef Glacier sparked Megan’s interest in water and sustainability. However, it would be years before she would see the links between some classroom theories and real-world sustainable outcomes. 

“I didn't really understand why I was being told to study calculus,” she said.“Then, in my first hydrology lecture at university, I learned how these equations could tell me the shape of the water table underground. This in turn, enables us to work out how much of this can be used sustainably. So I became really engaged with it,” Megan said.

She told the students, “your passion for the thing you care about comes first. Then science, tech and maths are simply sets of tools that help us do really incredible things for humanity and the planet.”

Cue the flash of figurative lightbulbs flickering to life above students’ heads. 

Science is for everyone

Megan sees STEM programs in schools as a way to challenge students’ perceptions of who could be a scientist. As a young woman with a science PhD, Megan already breaks some lingering stereotypes. 

“There are some incredible female scientists out there doing awesome work. We're always saying you can't be what you can't see,” said Megan, who would’ve loved to have greater access to female STEM role models when she was at school. She is now paying it forward.

Women in STEM is but one part of a broader conversation about diversity in science, which the industry is seeing. The STEM Professionals in Schools program has the potential to have major, positive impacts on students from all walks of life.  

“There are kids from a lot of different backgrounds getting huge exposure to science and technology through the program. Science is for everyone. I don't want anybody to feel that it's not for them, because it absolutely is,” Megan said. 

©  Nick Pitsas

Getting involved to inspire

The program is Australia's largest national skilled volunteering program for STEM professionals and educators. Despite this, we are always looking out for more volunteers to participate.

Megan sees STEM programs in schools as a worthwhile way to give back to her community and encourages others to participate.  

“Even though we may only spend half an hour talking to the class, for the kids to get exposure to people working on interesting things could be a life-changing experience. I think you can underestimate the contribution just a small amount of effort can make. And I think this program lends itself really well to that,” Megan said. 

Volunteers can be as involved as they want to be. For instance, Megan arranges her involvement with the schools depending on the ebb and flow of her work life. Last year, she visited Footscray High School twice. She also held video calls with The King David School over the course of a month for an environmental sciences module. 

The program provides STEM professionals the opportunity to get into the physical or virtual classroom and hone their presentation skills. It also provides the option to help purely behind the scenes. For example, supporting teachers to create exciting lessons for students. It all starts with reaching out to the STEM Professionals in Schools team. 

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