Funding awarded to the UOW Science Centre & Planetarium for a project that will encourage girls and women to study and pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and maths.

The Science Centre & Planetarium will be the lead partner for a major ‘Festival of STEM’ in late 2017, with funding worth $195,000 from the Australian Department of Industry, Innovation and Science.

The funding is the first round of the $8 million Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship grant program (under the Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda), which aims to support women in STEM and entrepreneurship.

The program will fund outreach programs, projects and activities targeting girls and women to foster interest in entrepreneurship, to develop innovation and entrepreneurial skills, and to build professional networks.

The ‘Festival of STEM’ will feature key stakeholders from across UOW campuses and deliver an extensive program of STEM based activities, primarily using women scientists as strong role models to 2,500 students over a period of five days to inspire students, particularly women, to pursue careers in STEM.

“The number of students coming through the schooling system within the STEM subjects is declining, and of those that do make it through we are seeing a large imbalance in gender with a lower proportion of girls taking STEM subjects,” says Director of UOW’s Science Centre and Planetarium Mr Stuart Creal.

“National information indicates an urgent need to have a future workforce that is STEM skilled therefore it is becoming more critical that we grow this potential talent pool, particularly with girls, to address this skill shortage.

“As students enter the decision making periods during their studies there are many pressures and influences that affect their decisions to pursue a future in STEM. The theory behind many of these influences are now out-dated. By exposing large groups of students to strong role models in STEM - particularly women early in their high school experience - we aim to change both the students and the teachers opinions of the subject and not only grow the talent pool and quality but address the gender balance.”

Hosting a ‘Festival of STEM’ at the Innovation Campus will offer a number of unique opportunities and utilise key resources and facilities:

• The Innovation Campus is a leading, award winning centre of Research and Innovation with a number of prominent facilities such as the Sustainable Building Research Centre, iAccelarate – a start-up innovative business incubator, Australian Institute of Innovative Materials and the Science Centre & Planetarium - Australia’s most successful regional Science Centre.

• UOW is in the top 2% of research universities worldwide and champions a large number of highly respected and recognised “Women of Impact”, many specialising in STEM subjects.

• Having been supporting and promoting STEM subjects since 1989, the Science Centre & Planetarium is recognised within the region as a centre of STEM. It is visited by over 50,000 visitors per year and is seen as a focal point for STEM activities and experiences. It is also well positioned for communicating with schools and coordinating excursions.

“We plan to be able to engage with close to 2,500 students through the five days of practical and engaging activities. It is planned that students will leave the Festival with a greatly improved knowledge of STEM and the possibilities available for them in following an education or career in STEM,” says Mr Creal.

The ‘Festival of STEM’ project also strengthens UOW’s participation in the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) pilot, that is based on the successful UK Athena SWAN model, an accreditation and improvement program that recognises commitment to advancing women’s careers in traditionally male-dominated disciplines.

UOW is an inaugural member of the SAGE pilot project and is committed to upholding the ten principles of the Athena SWAN Charter aimed at further enhancing opportunities for women in academia.