Balancing the Equation: Mentoring First-Year Female STEM Students at a Regional University

Jackie Reid, Erica Smith, Nansiri Iamsuk, Jennifer Miller

Abstract


Due to the emergence of disruptive digital technologies the shape of the Australian workforce is rapidly changing and the development of STEM skills is an imperative. However, there has been a decline in the number of students studying STEM subjects in senior secondary school. In addition, women are underrepresented in many STEM disciplines. The University of New England is a regional Australian university where a large proportion of students are from rural and regional areas, are mature-aged, and come from low SES backgrounds. Many commence their tertiary studies in STEM with diverse backgrounds, often without the necessary assumed knowledge. A mentoring program was designed to assist female students develop STEM-related study and career goals. Important components of the program included: face-to-face and online training and professional development for participants, two mentors (one academic and one industry-based) per student, accessibility for students studying at a distance, guest speakers, and outreach activities promoting STEM to the wider community. This program could be readily adapted for other cohorts of students (e.g., indigenous students) and expanded (e.g., for all students embarking on STEM studies). The program helped students recognise and address potential roadblocks to a sustained and successful STEM-based career, build confidence in pursuing study and career goals, and develop sound decision-making skills in career planning. For mentors, the program offered STEM-related professional development opportunities. Furthermore, academic mentors reported a positive impact on their approach to STEM teaching as a result of participation in the program.

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