Today was the first day of the new-look 2021 NYSF Year 12 Program, and it was hugely successful!
The day began with a special Opening Event to celebrate the opportunities available to participants’ through the NYSF Year 12 Program. Participants were welcomed by NYSF CEO Dr Melanie Bagg, Chief of Staff Sophie Burgess and NYSF Board Chair, The Honourable Kate Lundy. The Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, The Honourable Karen Andrews MP then shared her congratulations and a video message of encouragement with the participants.
The highlight of the Opening Event was a panel discussion by some of Australia’s brightest minds discussing the role of future STEM professionals in helping build our national resilience. As last year demonstrated, the world faces significant challenges, with COVID-19, climate change, energy, food and water security and an ageing population posing some of the most urgent issues of our time. The discussion focussed on the tools students will need in the future to solve these problems and contribute to national resilience.
The panel was facilitated by NYSF CEO, Dr Melanie Bagg and featured Australia’s Chief Defence Scientist, NYSF 1990 Alumna and Science Patron, Prof Tanya Monro FAA FTSE FOSA FAIP GAICD, Australian National University Dean of Science, Prof Kiaran Kirk BSc(Hons) PhD DPhil FAHMS, Vice President International - Lockheed Martin Space, Rod Drury CSC, ARC Laureate and University of New South Wales Prof Veena Sahajwalla FAA FTSE HonFIEAust CPEng, and The University of Queensland Provost, Prof Aidan Byrne BSc MSc Auck. PhD ANU.
After each of the panellists gave a short introduction to their career path and incredible achievements, it was time to delve into the hard-hitting questions about STEM’s role in resilience.
To kick things off, panellists were asked why you think it’s so important for our future communities to have a strong STEM focus at the core of all their activities? Their answers ranged from the pathways STEM can take you, the applicability of its critical thinking skills, the unique exploratory nature of STEM to the particular way STEM helps you look at the world.
Aidan Byrne began the conversation by highlighting the unique nature of a STEM background that allows us to handle problems in a particular way and transports us to spaces where we are unaware of the next challenge.
“STEM is about creativity with an analytical basis, and that combination is really powerful as we face a world with lot’s of challenges, especially with COVID. Could we have produced a vaccine without STEM? I don’t think we could have. Science provides a vehicle that enables us to solve problems like that.”
The panellists were then asked what national resilience means to them and why STEM is critical to building resilience using real-world examples. Kiaran talked about climate change and the danger of scientists failing to communicate effectively; Veena highlighted STEM being at the core of how we look after people and our plant; Aidan touched on how COVID has forced us to reflect upon what we’re doing and why; while Rod also talked about the challenges of 2020 and the ability of society to adapt behaviour and thinking due to STEM information.
Tanya Monro connected the question to the 550+ participants who attended the discussion today.
“One of the keys is that people like yourself who are considering science careers consider that science training can make you extraordinarily influential, not just in the lab but you can take that and go into such a wide range of careers. You think differently because you’re trained as a scientist, and that’s what we need the future of Australia to be like to become more resilient.”
After the curated questions, participants got the opportunity to ask their questions directly to the panellists.
The first question came from 2021 participant, Nicola in Sydney who asked if it would be more difficult to make STEM discoveries in the future?
A simple yet incredibly accurate answer came from Rod Drury, who put it perfectly with “We don’t know what we don’t know.” He used the constantly evolving automotive industry as an example of this sentiment. Participants were excited by the wealth of STEM opportunities available at Lockheed Martin Australia.
Other answers highlighted the incredible time the participants were entering the STEM field, with the unknown challenges of the future that we don’t have solutions to yet.
Emma in Melbourne asked the panel what an up and coming STEM solution to any problem that excites you and why?
Veena Sahajwalla spoke about her field in electronic waste recycling, and the quick succession from solution to its use in the real world gave her immense excitement.
“With collaboration, we can accelerate the translation of that science in parallel to doing the science. It’s a whole new exciting world of science with its translation and impact it is all happening at an accelerated pace. So to me, there are no limits in how quickly you can deliver on the real-world impact is the most exciting part of the work that we do.”
Aidan Byrne added to this using COVID as a real-world example, and the excitement he feels around the way the world has responded to the pressing issue and the incredible techniques and tools they have used to produce vaccines at such a rapid pace.
The final question regarded diversity, and it’s importance in STEM.
Answers to the questions echoed Kiaran Kirk’s answer, highlighting the importance of collaboration and the necessity of building diverse networks that reflect our communities to complete our best science is key for participants to tackle tomorrow’s challenges.
“It’s not just gender diversity; it’s cultural diversity and general human diversity. But as we work in teams more and more and we work increasingly in interdisciplinary teams, it is clear that having diversity of backgrounds and the nature of those teams holds great benefits.”
The event was filled with insightful answers to thought-provoking questions from our participants.
The Opening Event was a taste for what’s to come in the next three weeks of the 2021 NYSF Year 12 Program, preparing participants to have their views challenged as they learn from Australia’s leaders in STEM.
Thank you to all the panellists and speakers at this inspiring Opening Event for sharing their thoughts on national resilience and solving tomorrow’s challenges.
Thank you to all the NYSF Partners for supporting the 2021 NYSF Year 12 Program.