Women in STEM challenge inspires Gippsland girls

The future wellbeing of young people in the Latrobe Valley is in safe hands, thanks to the collective minds of more than 50 female students from Gippsland.

Three students at Gippsland Tech School demonstrate how augmented reality technology works on an iPad.
Three students demonstrate how augmented reality technology works on an iPad

Year 9 and 10 students from 14 secondary schools travelled to Gippsland Tech School for a three-day, Women in STEM - Foodbytes Challenge. Participants came from as far afield as Swifts Creek, Mallacoota, Philip Island and Neerim South. Their mission: to develop a health campaign to raise awareness around the importance of nutrition and exercise among their peers in the Latrobe Valley.

The program challenged students to develop creative solutions to tackle common health issues. The focus was on the high rates of obesity, smoking, alcohol consumption, poor nutrition and low physical activity levels.

Gippsland Tech School Director Paul Boys said it was an exciting challenge and the first event of its kind in the region.

'When Latrobe Health Assembly came to us to say they were trying to address some of these health issues, we jumped at the chance to create a program that could help students utilise the technology we have here at the Tech School to address a real need in the community,' Paul says.  

'It was really great to see the way the girls interacted and the quality of the work produced.'

The three-day event was designed in collaboration with Baw Baw Latrobe LLEN, South Gippsland and Bass Coast LLEN, East Gippsland LLEN, Latrobe Health Assembly and 'We are Latrobe'.

Developing new skills

Guided by industry mentors, students attended a series of master classes and workshops to build their leadership, technical and communication skills. These included app development, games design, project management and public speaking.

Korumburra Secondary College Science and STEM Coordinator Stacie Witton, says the program exposed students to new ideas and technology they had not experienced before.

'It allowed them to see the range of technology that could be used to solve their health problem.'

She says one of the best things about the program was the ideas that staff could take back to their classrooms and incorporate in their teaching.

'As a teacher, the key is to make learning relevant and Tech Schools do that. It flows so nicely and neatly here. When you use a real-world problem, it allows buy-in from students.

'The kids wanted to keep going on their projects, that is how engaged they were. We finished at 7.30pm and they were still talking about the day and how great it was.'

At the conclusion of the design challenge, the teams pitched their prototypes to an expert judging panel. Innovative ideas included:

  • a mental health website and online forum to provide support and advice
  • a video game to encourage healthy eating
  • a Claymation stop motion film to depict the sugar content in soft drinks. This also included a call for a new policy to include sugar content on sweetened drink packaging.

Emily, 16, says she enjoyed making new friends and has learned to look at things from another perspective.

'It's not just about your opinions, it's about others too,' she says and adds that the program has also helped to build her confidence. 'I feel like I can speak in public more often and more confidently now.'

Centres of STEM excellence

Victoria's 10 new Tech Schools are centres of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) excellence. They link secondary school students and industry to deliver innovative learning programs that challenge students to solve problems in a real-world context, giving them the skills and knowledge they need to compete in the future global job market.