From as far south as the Antarctic to the lofty heights of New York, from the study of the most minute of particle physics to the assessment of entire ecosystems or the advocacy of science in public policy - between the 11,000 plus alumni who have come through the NYSF Year 12 Program, they have a significant amount of ground covered across the various STEM fields and beyond.
In 2018, the National Youth Science Forum (NYSF) is celebrating the 35th anniversary of the NYSF Year 12 Program (previously called the National Summer Science School (NSSS)), which was founded by Rotary in 1983. To honour this achievement and to showcase this rich history, we’ve been running a special promotion featuring alumni from each year of the program, starting all the way back with the first session in 1984.
Tim Senden was the first alumni to be featured, having attended the inaugural 1984 program. Now a Professor and Director of the Research School of Physics and Engineering at the Australian National University, Tim has been able to stay in touch and give back to the program, hosting NYSF participants in his lab on the ANU campus. Professor Senden credits the program as a major inspiration for his career path:
"I went to the NYSF/NSSS in 1984 and the program had a major influence on my career trajectory. Meeting like-minded people, both through the shared student live-in experience and the interaction with career researchers at the host organisations, allowed me to see first-hand how relevant and powerful a career in STEM can be. The timing was also perfect, showing me more precisely what a career in STEM might look like. The great power of the program is that is provides context for one’s passion in STEM, it marries personal drive with societal relevance."
In 1986, when Sally-Ann Poulsen made the long trip to Canberra from regional Queensland, she probably would never have guessed that she would go on to become a valued member of the NYSF Board and a world-renowned scientist in her field.
“I went to the NYSF/NSSS in 1986 and this experience immersed me (and 233 other year 12 students) in science in a way that allowed a realistic glimpse of a future career in STEM. The experience validated my passion for STEM. I am now a Professor of Chemistry and a researcher developing new molecules to address human disease such as treatments for multidrug resistant cancer.”
Another passionate advocate for the program is Physics Professor Tanya Monro FAA FTSE FOSA FAIP GAICD, who attended in 1990. After several years as the Chair of the NYSF Board, she is now a Patron to the organisation and program.
“Programs like the NYSF are vital because they give many students their first exposure to science and technology outside the school context. When science comes alive in the real world, whether that be in a university research lab, a private company or in government, they can see how science makes a real impact in the world. You see these bright, engaged, capable young people and you can just see how it lights a flame that never goes out.”
Rotary remains instrumental to the success of the NYSF, providing countless volunteer hours towards the selection and support of students to attend. Stuart Cardell, who attended the NYSF in 1994, has since completed this circle joining Rotary as a District Chair, the role that serves as NYSF's main contact point with Rotary. Over the years Stuart has given a great deal back to the program, that he felt gave so much to him.
"The experience of heading to the NSSS, as it was in 1994, was key in helping me to develop my own interest in STEM, science education and in providing me an opportunity to build self-confidence and communications skills. It was this fabulous experience and the opportunities it offers to young people interested in STEM that led me to continue my involvement with the program.
It’s why in 2000, when I moved to Canberra, my family and I home hosted 30-40 students across the multiple sessions without a second thought.
It’s why over that time, I attended the Rotary and the occasional Science Dinner whenever I could.
It’s why in July 2008, I was privileged to meet some of the NYSF International students, show them London town and help them get settled.
It’s why in 2011, when I was asked to be on the NYSF interview panel for District 9800, I had no hesitations in saying yes.
It’s why this year, I jumped at the chance to take on the role as the District 9800 Chair.
It’s why one year, I’d love to go along as a Rotary Dad or Uncle.
It’s why I suggest to all the Rotarians I meet that they should be involved in and sponsor students in the program.
It’s why I suggest to all of the young people who are eligible that they should apply.
… and it’s why I would suggest to anyone that they should get on board and support this amazing program in any small way they can."
Throughout the series, alumni have also shared their advice to the next generation of STEM enthusiasts. Dr Rebecca Carey came to NYSF in 1997, now a Volcanologist she has the sage advice for young STEM enthusiasts "to seek out opportunities and mentors who can help you navigate towards a career that you love. Mentors love mentoring, you just have to ask!”. Steven Myers, NYSF 2002, encourages young people to broaden their thinking around STEM careers:
"Careers in STEM do not have to be conventional when combined with a business management or project management qualification – it can lead to an exciting and rewarding career path with exposure to cutting edge innovations and intellectually stimulating entrepreneurial ventures without being contained to a laboratory. I would encourage you to look at combined degrees that broaden your skills and increase opportunities for you across the global STEM ecosystem."
And Kate De Smeth, NYSF 2004, reflects; "the greatest lesson for me was one about attitude and outlook - that your life doesn’t have to fit into a mould defined by your degree selection or job title. The NYSF taught me to open my eyes to the opportunities around me; to be hungry for my own adventure and so create opportunities to enable that to happen; to see that the only limits on my trajectory will be the ones I place on myself; and that we, as a community of young scientists, can be and do anything we want to if we support each other.“
The quotes shown here are just a small sample of the entire project. You can see all 35 featured alumni posts and more here on our Facebook page.