2021: A year of floods, pandemics and connecting online

Source: pexels.com Photographer:  Chris F.

By Anita Brown, Activity Facilitator, UNE Discovery Voyager

Schools visits and online offerings

We all hoped that 2021 would bring stability and a return to a more normal life. Climate and the ongoing COVID 19 pandemic had other plans.

In early March the Discovery Voyager team headed off to visit small schools in the Manning River region, happy to be out and about performing our core business of bringing play-based science activities to the regions. Students delved into the life of soils, rocked through time and created chemical concoctions. On that trip, we decided to stay in Taree where, just a few weeks later, floodwaters created much damage. The continuing heavy rains and flooding prevented us from travelling to the Byron/Ballina region, where we had plans to visit four schools. It was a sign of rain to come, brought by La Nina, which will continue to bring high rainfall over the next year.

April brought some sunny skies and we were able to go ahead with our local visits in the New England region. In May we travelled to the Macleay Valley, visiting small schools around Maclean. June’s planned trips to Grafton and Moree happily went ahead.

We were ready with creative solutions when COVID restrictions were back in July; we were unable to visit schools so responded by ramping up our online and social media presence. It’s been fun connecting with classes via zoom, especially being able to include digital assets in activities as well as making 3D shapes together. We hope you rediscovered our many science play videos and online games, available to you on our website and YouTube channel, and had fun at home or school learning about science through experimental play and using our worksheets.

The Boilerhouse Discovery Space

Design phase for this amazing space has continued, with the architects and design crew making significant progress remotely with the help of UNE Estate and Built Environment Project Manager, Chris Petrov. The building represents a significant opportunity to enhance the northern entry to the University, and post tornado, can offer some hope for an aesthetically unique and iconic community asset. Although delays are inevitable, keep your eyes and ears out for how the Boilerhouse Discovery Space changes.

Farewells and futures

With the disruptions and uncertainties that 2021 brought, we celebrated and mourned some of our team taking up other work opportunities. In January, we farewelled our Team Manager, Andrea Jaggi, who is now working with a remote indigenous community in the Northern Territory, preparing students to enter undergraduate studies at Macquarie University. Our UNE Discovery Program Leader, Dr Kirsti Abbott, left the role at the end of June and will take up the newly created position of Head of Science at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. In September Dr Jean Holley, our Schools Liaison and Bookings Officer and activity facilitator, moved on to a position with Local Land Services, returning to ecological roots. Imogen Semmler, one of our activity facilitators, is focusing on her work in soil ecology and regenerative agriculture. Anita Brown, another one of our activity facilitators, will return to high school teaching in 2022. Undergraduate UNE students have benefitted from Dr Kieran Meaney’s expertise in 2021 lecturing in an academic role within the discipline of Geology while continuing to facilitate activities with UNE Discovery Voyager.

What now?

Watch this space for news of Discovery Voyager plans in 2022 early next year. In the meantime, thank you for staying connected with us during what has been a tricky year for all of us. We hope you continue to stay curious, asking questions, hypothesising, discovering and standing in awe……..we love our STEAMy science!