From the presentations and discussions at last week’s ADM STEM in Defence Summit, it was clear that stakeholders (from governments state and federal to academic and research institutions and industry) need to lean in with a coherent, coordinated approach to develop and promote Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) pathways for prospective students. The impact of industry engagement, however, can be particularly profound.
Speaking at the inaugural summit, Boeing university relations and STEM senior manager Sandra James said the key was to connect classrooms with inspiring real-world examples.
“We can’t just tell students where an education in STEM can lead, we need to show them – and that’s where industry has a key role to play,” James said.
“By giving teachers the tools and information they need to inspire and nurture a child’s curiosity and interest in science, we’re empowering the next generation with a set of skills that will set them up for the jobs of the future.”
Established by Boeing in partnership with the Queensland Government and Aviation Australia in 2004, the Aerospace Gateway Schools program is a long-range talent pipeline initiative where participating high schools partner with aerospace industry companies to deliver the ‘Aerospace Studies’ subject.
James said the program allows students to understand what skills they’ll need in the industry and what opportunities are available. Critically, it also assists teachers to more clearly understand these STEM pathways. The direction of the program each year is set by a steering comittee which consists of teachers – “you don’t do it to them, you do it with them” – along with other representatives from industry and government.
To teach Aerospace Studies, schools need to partner with an aerospace company, such as an airport, a flying school or a large organisation like Boeing.
“This enables the students to participate in hands-on learning which includes school visits and work experience – when a student can touch a plane, talk to an aircraft mechanic, or watch a structural engineer at work – that is the experience that actually stays with them and fuels their passion to go further in our industry.”
James said the influence of teachers could not be underestimated – “how many careers have been imagined through the guidance and enthusiasm of a favourite teacher?”
In light of this, a Teachers Award has been established which sends the annual recipient to Space Camp in the US, which also includes a tour of the Boeing plant.
“Teachers are an important part of this program and if we’re going to get them conected to this industry, they need to see it and touch it for themselves,” James said.
This year, Boeing and the Aerospace Gateway Schools program extended the Queensland program to include direct student pathways into tertiary education.
Another example of STEM industry engagement producing positive results has been Saab Australia’s involvement with Re-Engineering Australia’s Subs in Schools program. REA Chair Michael Myers, who also attended the summit, said the company has “stood tall” in its support, providing senior managers and engineers to assist in judging competitions and student mentoring since 2014. Now, the company appoints its young engineers from its graduate program to work closely with the students, as Saab ‘ambassador’ Will Daniels explained.
“My role is to coordinate our involvement with the schools we mentor by checking in with our second year grads who work with the students and their supervisors. I’ll ensure the grads are organised and primed with technical and background knowledge of the program. This enables them to provide impactful leadership and technical guidance for the student teams on their regular visits.”
Daniels said the program provides visions of a potential career path into the defence industry. “Subs in Schools is much more than ‘an interesting project’ for students – it makes them more employable and they stand out from the crowd. Being involved in Subs in Schools is a great way to demonstrate where your interests lie and certainly wouldn’t hurt your internship chances at Saab in my opinion.”
At the summit, Myers said programs like Subs in Schools “just wouldn’t succeed without the support offered by industry”.