Posted on 31/10/2018 by Phillip Island Nature Parks
STEM Sisters impress with research findings
Three groups of young women from Leongatha Secondary College and Wonthaggi Secondary College recently presented the findings of their research projects into Victoria’s fur seal population to a panel of professionals as part of a Gippsland STEM Sisters program.
The STEM Sisters project aims to engage Year 10 girls in a range of activities relating to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects during the 2018 school year, and is an initiative of the Local Learning and Employment Networks of Baw Baw Latrobe, South Gippsland
Bass Coast and Gippsland East.
At the start of the project, the students joined Education and Research staff from Phillip Island Nature Parks for a visit to the Antarctic Journey at the Nobbies, followed by a trip out to Seal Rocks on the Wild Oceans EcoBoat to see the fur seals up close and learn about the ecosystem they were going to
During a subsequent workshop the students were introduced to the online citizen science portal SealSpotter, which makes use of drone technology to aid in wildlife research. They developed three distinct projects and had individual portals built for them to lead their own teams to research topics including the changing numbers of female seals suckling pups at Seal Rocks; differences in abundance between two breeding colonies (Seal Rocks and the Skerries); and the clustering habits of
pups at Seal Rocks.
The students then set about counting and monitoring seals with the aid of citizen scientists from around the region - performing real science in real time. On Monday 22 October they provided their final presentations at the Nobbies on.
Team one found that there were more females feeding pups earlier in the season than one week later when many females had left to feed themselves. Team two identified that there were more seals at The Skerries near Mallacoota than Seal Rocks, and Team three found that pups did indeed cluster in certain areas of Seal Rocks and that the average group size was around 10 pups.
“The students’ interpretation of results showed how much hard work they had put into their projects and that they had thought hard about interpreting the results,” said Dr Rebecca McIntosh, Research Scientist with Phillip Island Nature Parks.
“The session was a great success and I feel honoured to have worked with these amazing young leaders in STEM. They developed and managed their independent projects, assimilated results and provided a presentation highlighting their methods and findings. The skills they practiced including leadership, project development, time management and communication, are important for success in any occupation,” said Dr McIntosh.
David Wingfield from Wonthaggi Secondary College said “This was a fantastic opportunity for students to engage in collecting ‘real world’ data. Although the initial tabulation of the images was time consuming, it did allow a broad spectrum of our school community to contribute. Central to the data collation was the girls’ need to communicate what they were doing to other students to elicit their support. This was a great aspect from our perspective.”
“For me the highlight was the presentation. The girls’ efforts from all the teams were acknowledged and supported so well by the professional panel viewing the project. This really empowered all our girls to believe in their ability to conduct research and have a meaningful impact in protecting our environment,” said Mr Wingfield.
The STEM Sisters project was created in response to low levels of engagement from girls in STEM subjects. The project has its own STEM Sister Ambassadors; women who are working in STEM roles and are prepared to work with young Gippsland students to show them what a career in STEM looks
like and how they can get there.
Special thanks to Ross Holmberg for technical support, Karina Sorrell for mentoring the students at the workshop and Ashton Chudiak for mentoring the students throughout the project. Also thanks to all the citizen science collaborators who counted seals for the STEM Sisters projects.
Roland Pick – Communications Executive
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