Over the years, Questacon's STEM workshops have empowered teachers and students to engage with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), experience innovation and be inspired by passionate STEM role models who share their real-world experiences.
Supported by Diamond Partner, Department of Defence, Questacon’s Educator Programs, including Engineering is Elementary, instil confidence to teach STEM and introduce STEM into all teaching.
Participating in these workshops are STEM role models, including Defence engineers like Commander Siobhan Sturdy, CSM, RAN who is Deputy Director of Nuclear Submarine Workforce Development for the Australian government’s Department of Defence.
Siobhan has joined 3 Engineering is Elementary virtual workshops and shared some of the rewards and challenges she has faced in her STEM education and career. She told educators how her own STEM teachers set her on the path to a really exciting, unusual and rewarding career as a submarine engineer in the Navy.
“There were teachers that nourished my curiosity and gave me extension work to keep me occupied when I wasn’t challenged enough with the set courseware. They also made me feel proud of my strengths in STEM subjects.
“It’s hard to choose one favourite part of being involved in the workshops. They prompt me to think in new ways and give me the opportunity to share my excitement for STEM, especially engineering, in a setting where that is helpful and valuable to other people. I also enjoy providing feedback to our wonderful STEM teachers about how important their work is,” said Siobhan.
Participants often ask the STEM role model about their own experiences and how these led to a career in STEM. Siobhan has also answered questions about being a female engineer in a male-dominated environment, and how more women are entering into these roles.
“When asked, I talk about my experience (onboard a submarine) facing significant technical problems out under the ocean and out of contact with the technical support team ashore. My team and I had to find solutions on our own, in high-pressure situations.
“It is so rewarding proving to myself that I could overcome these challenges, leading teams of incredible technically-minded humans who approach problems with determination and achieve some really inspiring outcomes.”
Siobhan has also found that educators are very keen to get contact details for engineers who could take part in the workshop activities in the classroom and talk to their students about their jobs and how STEM subjects are so important to those jobs.
Providing workshop attendees with the opportunity to speak to real-life STEM role models, especially women in engineering, is an invaluable experience. For the workshops, it gives the educators more evidence and examples of the true value they provide when teaching STEM subjects to young Aussies – particularly young women. These interactions with professional engineers also help to build the teachers’ knowledge of, and confidence in teaching, these technical subjects.
Having this experience allows teachers to understand the absolutely fundamental role that engineers play in the world and hear stories from real-life people putting engineering into practise.
There are also benefits for the STEM role models. Siobhan said, “Being involved in the Engineering is Elementary program with Questacon has provided another avenue for deep satisfaction and reminded me of how cool my job is which reinvigorates my excitement for my work.
“I also see participating in the workshops as a chance to give back and help people directly. I am passionate about advocating for and supporting female engineers coming up after me.
“I know my work contributes directly to Australia’s security and our way of life, and I know I can support my team at work, but being able to provide some insight into my experiences and role as an engineer provides immediate and tangible benefits to the teachers I engage with. It’s so rewarding!”
Questacon would like to thank all the STEM role models who have taken part in our workshops over the years. We greatly appreciate your support in engaging Australians with STEM, inspiring the next generation and helping us to bring about a more STEM-filled future!