Regional STEAM engagement

What does it take to engage the whole community with science, technology, engineering, arts and maths – or STEAM? At the recent STEAM in the Regions summit held in Townsville, Inspiring Australia NSW Manager Jackie Randles argued that while it’s important to acknowledge that jobs, growth and workforce skills are important, they are not all it takes to create a thriving regional community.

“Engaging communities across Australia with science and technology is critical to ensure that people can take advantage of opportunities and keep up with the rapid pace of change. But even more important is ensuring that people everywhere, particularly in regional Australia, have access to knowledge and ideas in ways that allow them to get involved, ask questions and experience problem solving,” Jackie said.

In NSW, communities are able to explore the relevance of science and technology skills through the arts as part of the long-term NSW Regional Science Hubs strategy established in 2013.

“As the national strategy for public engagement with the sciences, Inspiring Australia works on multi-levels to take science to where people go – festivals, libraries and even the footy. State managers develop networks that connect science and engineering researchers to big audiences in collaboration with hundreds of partners in order to create memorable and engaging events and programs that inspire communities.”

By combining science and art, Jackie said that public engagement programs can be more appealing and welcoming to a broader range of audiences than those who might attend a seminar about workforce readiness. In particular, programs delivered by Regional Science Hubs are unique in their ability to inspire curiosity in all kids of ways, almost always using a STEAM approach

“Our small grants program enables Science Hubs to connect scientists to the public via programs that welcome non-scientists into a researcher’s world – both in National Science Week each August and throughout the year,” Jackie added.

“In the past year alone, hundreds of appealing community programs delivered across NSW have educated and engaged people of all ages with the exciting and sometimes daunting opportunities of our rapidly changing world – like habitat loss and extinction.”

“Other projects have offered careers forums showcasing regional jobs – and when well documented, create online stories that can be shared,” Jackie said.

From theatre productions and art workshops to Field Days and cinema screenings, Inspiring Australia-supported experiences deliver rich cultural and educational experiences for a community and add new opportunities for social connection.

“Our experience with the Science Hubs shows that building community connections around science and technology increases both STEAM knowledge and scientific literacy. If we’re going to succeed in boosting our capacity in science and technology skills, we need to engage the community in a holisitic way, not just rely on schools.”

Jackie Randles from Inspiring Australia NSW and Dr Sheryn Pitman from Inspiring South Australia (pictured) were invited guest speakers at the STEAM in the Regions conference presented by Townsville Enterprise on Monday 18 November 2019.