2016 Alumni Award for Professional Excellence
Head Teacher Science, Casula High School and President of Regional Science
Doctor of Education, 2009
At a time when innovation is firmly on the agenda, Dr Ken Silburn is leading the charge in inspiring the next generation to world-changing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Ken is at the forefront of science education in Australia, and has devoted his career to transforming student engagement with the sciences. Last year, the long-term significance and impact of his work was recognised with an honour of the highest order: the prestigious Prime Minister’s Prize for Science for leadership and excellence in science teaching in secondary schools.
Ken founded the iSTEM (Invigorating Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) program in 2012, and remains the program designer and coordinator. Through iSTEM, Ken gives interested high school students across Sydney’s South West and beyond a chance to meet like-minded peers and engage in activities not usually available in their schools: anything from robotics workshops, space labs, and tours of nuclear reactor facilities, to visits to universities and museums. Showing just how deeply his dedication to the cause runs, Ken announced on winning the Prime Minister’s Prize that he would dedicate his share of the $50,000 prize money to taking iSTEM national.
iSTEM also runs an annual trip to the United States for Year 9-12 students and teachers from across Australia, where they experience a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take part in the Space Academy Program at the US Space and Rocket Center in Alabama. Thus far the program has benefited more than 200 teachers and students. Importantly, it is also bucking the trend for low female enrolments in STEM activities, with much of the interest in the program coming from young girls.
Ken is a global leader in his field. In 2011, he was one of only 16 educators across the globe to be selected to participate in the Advanced Space Academy Educators Course in the United States. In 2014, was invited as a special guest to the US Space and Rocket Centre in recognition of his work, and was subsequently appointed an Ambassador for the Honeywell US Space Academy for Educators Program.
This year, Ken was selected as one of 28 scientists and educators worldwide – and one of only six Australians, and six teachers overall – to participate in the NASA Spaceward Bound Program in India’s Ladakh region. He has also been selected by the Australian High Commission to undertake a lecture tour and workshop series in India under the auspices of the Australia India Education Council.
When Ken joined the teaching staff at Casula High School 16 years ago, there was minimal interest from students in taking science subjects beyond what was deemed compulsory – in fact, only eight Year 11 students were enrolled in science units for the Higher School Certificate. Through Ken’s innovative and inspiring approach, that figure has climbed to the point where the school currently has 132 Year 11 science positions filled, in direct contrast to the nationwide trend towards decreasing enrolments in HSC science subjects. Students are excelling too, and many are choosing to continue studies in STEM at tertiary level. His students credit Ken’s method of immersive teaching with leading them to see science in a whole new light.
As head of the school’s science faculty, Ken has inspired a committed and stable teaching staff to engage their own students in new ways. His innovative practices have been adopted in other schools and regions, exponentially magnifying the impact of his work. He is also a member and trusted advisor of numerous professional associations and educational bodies, both in Australia and abroad.
Ken has been recognised with numerous awards for his teaching and community impact over the past ten years, and recently was named both a ‘Champion of the West’ in the Daily Telegraph’s ‘Go West’ awards, and a ‘Hero of Liverpool’ by the Mayor and Councillors of Liverpool City Council.
Chancellor, Dr Ken Silburn’s contribution to his profession and to advancing STEM education in Australia is exemplary, and will have a lasting impact on the future of our nation. He epitomises the concept of the life-long learner and inspires it in others.
It is a great pleasure to present Dr Ken Silburn for the Alumni Award for Professional Excellence.
Hard work, intellect and talent recognised in 2016 Alumni Awards