coLAB: Armidale Maker & Breaker Space, Girls in STEM

In late 2020, the UNE Discovery team, in collaboration with Armidale City Public School, Settlement Services International and the Armidale Regional Council via the Armidale War Memorial Library, were successful with a grant application with the Federal Government’s Inspiring Australia program for Maker Projects: Community STEM Engagement projects.

The Maker & Breaker CoLab for New England aims to bring to life a dedicated maker space for the community on the grounds of Armidale City Public School.  In the space we will facilitate STEM programs for young Ezidi refugees ages 6-18 years and their families, and for regional girls ages 8-15 years. The STEM-focused, purpose-designed programs will bring together young people in a space focused on active, collaborative learning, of which nothing of its kind currently exists in Armidale.

Participants in any of the activities in the CoLab Maker Space will benefit from hands-on challenges, learning new skills in order to solve user-identified challenges. Ezidi young people will be immersed in a safe space to acquire a language in STEM, but also improve English language in group work on STEM concepts.

The first exciting initiative under this funding has kicked off already!  The Girls in STEM program for Term 1 is all about investigating DNA, and using DNA analysis techniques to solve THE BUTCHER’S CONUNDRUM!  From the basics of DNA structure and function, through to extraction and amplification of DNA, to identifying samples of meat for a local butcher, the schedule of workshops exposes girls in Years 9 and 10 to techniques that genetic researchers use every day.

In addition to the content of the program, girls are supported along the way by 15 local women in science; researchers and lecturers from the University of New England and CSIRO will be there every step of the way, as role models for young women in Armidale, as well as curious participants too.

“We really aim to provide a real life example of what any young woman can set their sights on – capitalising on their curiosity and motivation to pursue a life in science.” Says Dr Kirsti Abbott, UNE Discovery Program Leader, and partner in the project.