ConocoPhillips Science Experience 2019

– written by Siobhan Dennison & Andrea Jaggi

This January (amidst an Armidale heatwave and during their school holidays, no less!), 26 bright eyed and enthusiastic high school students from years 9-11 joined us for an intensive, fun filled, three days of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Mathematics (STEAM) at UNE. Known as the ConocoPhillips Science Experience, this annual program is run in over 35 participating universities and tertiary institutions across Australia, giving students the opportunity to immerse themselves in the world of science. From seminars to lab experiments, flying drones to forensics, students get exposure to all that a tertiary education in science has to offer.

The ConocoPhillips Science Experience is open to any student that has an interest in science, or a curiosity about the world around them. This year we had students join us from as far as Sydney, Brisbane, Coonabarabran and anywhere in between! After travelling so far to attend our program, what better time to check out our colleges too!

UNE’s ConocoPhillips program is one of the few in Australia that offers the opportunity for students to try out living the college life. As a regional university, UNE boasts its residential system as a true community and home away from home for those travelling from afar to study. Staying in college also allowed the group to get to know each other in their down time, sharing knowledge and interests that were well balanced with late night ping-pong tournaments and dance-offs.

This year, UNE’s ConocoPhillips Science Experience was coordinated by UNE Discovery, and with the inspiring enthusiasm and expertise of over 15 academics and technical staff that generously donate their time to help out, it was a very full program indeed! Starting with an introductory session presented by UNE Discovery Program Leader, Dr Kirsti Abbott, students were encouraged to constantly question the world around them and never cease to be curious. It was then all systems go, as students experienced up to four hands-on, interactive science practicals across a range of disciplines each day, including programming drones in precision agriculture, forming crystals in chemistry, blood testing in immunology, coding in computer science, burger making in meat and animal science, studying ants in entomology, DNA and forensic techniques in microbiology and pH and nematode testing in soil science.

Every scientist needs a balance in their day to day, and our students were treated to just that, with a Boot Camp at Sport UNE, dinner and a bushwalk at Dangars Falls, one of our region’s most spectacular gorges, and a movie night in UNE’s Natural History Museum! We also held a Q&A with scientists from academia, industry and consultancies, where students could ask about the possibilities of a career in science, and the myriad paths it can lead you on. We were also lucky enough to welcome The ConocoPhillips Science Experience Chairman, Rick Tudor, and National Director, Jacqui Bellars, who came up from Melbourne to see our program in action.

The last day of the program saw a barbecue for parents and students on the lawns of Booloominbah, where rich experiences were shared and sad farewells made with the promise of returning next year. Spending time with the students during the program, we’re always so heartened to see what an inspired, curious and innovative generation we have to look forward to. The conversations we had and the ideas they came up with were a testament to this, with the feedback from the students and parents highlighting how valuable these on-site, hands-on and experiential programs are. To show students the possibilities of a career in science, encouraging them to continue their education beyond school with a love of life-long learning is a valuable and rewarding job. And whether these students go on to become scientists or not, they have been immersed in a way of thinking that evokes creativity, critical approaches to decision making, and resilience: all incredibly valuable skills for becoming independent and informed global citizens.