At Calrossy one of our goals is to foster confident and courageous curious minds but one student this year has taken this mission a step further.

Rachel Donaldson in Year 11 is part of a STEM mentoring program called Curious Minds that aims to empowers girls who are passionate and high performers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). It is an invitation-only, six month program consisting of two residential camps in Canberra and regular virtual meetings with a coach and other girls.

Rachel officially started Curious Minds in December last year and finished last month, after competing in the Big Science Competition at Calrossy which is connected to Curious Minds, ran by Australian Science Innovations.

“I thoroughly enjoyed it. I also did really well in them, so I was invited to do the Olympiad Exams. From then on, I’ve been doing the exams every year... And I just thought why not?” says Rachel.

“As Science educators, we are looking for ways to challenge and extend our students and offer them inspiration outside of what is happening in the classroom. The Big Science competition, Olympiad Exams and Curious Minds program are some of these pathways. Numerous Calrossy alumni have also participated in the National Youth Science Forum, an International program, that gives students a broader understanding of the diverse study and career options available in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. These opportunities have certainly inspired students to pursue careers in the STEM fields” explains Mrs Toni King from Calrossy’s Science Department.

Curious Minds aims to help these students reach their full potential and targets students from regional locations to ensure they have the same opportunities and inspiration as their female city counterparts.

“The residential camp was amazing and well-worth the problems to get there. It was also beyond amazing to meet lots of like-minded girls and women - which I am now in contact with all over Australia,” Rachel says.

Curious Minds gives participants access to STEM role models by matching students with female mentors working in traditionally male-dominated careers. This year’s mentors include a diverse mix of engineers, physicists, mathematicians, research and medical scientists, medical practitioners, chemists, geologists and environmental scientists. Students complete a research project in partnership with their mentor, and present their findings to their peers during the camp.

“My project was monitoring a ginger plant using arduinos (microcontrollers). My mentor was from Melbourne and she is a mining engineer who specialises in geothermal energy. As for my future, I don’t know what I want to do after school. I’m probably going to take a gap year, maybe focus on some skills I’ve been itching to give more time too, such as my piano and learning Mandarin. After doing Curious Minds, I know someday I would love to pursue a career in STEM,” says Rachel.

“I realised how important communication is, especially in the STEM industry. You can be the smartest, most brilliant scientist but your information/ideas must be communicated,” Rachel explains.

“Also, that there is a whole world of opportunities out there for girls in STEM and that they are within reach. It was also extremely eye-opening to see a lot of practical applications of STEM in real-life, such as bank notes/forgeries.”

“Face-to-face camps provide an unparalleled opportunity to engage with tutors, make new friends with students who are as passionate as they are and take advantage of the world-class facilities offered through our partner universities,” says Dr Kelsie Dadd, Program Director of Curious Minds.

“We know that Year 9 and 10 is a critical time where girls may turn away from STEM… Curious Minds shows girls what is possible in STEM, and what it looks like outside the classroom.”

Since 2015, over 600 girls from regional, rural and low socio-economic areas have taken part in Curious Minds. A 2022 report revealed students involved in Curious Minds were 35% more likely to study male-dominated fields such physics and IT at University, with 77% indicating they would study STEM at University.

“Programs such as Curious Minds encourages students to involve themselves in other opportunites, like the Science Olympiads. The ultimate goal of the Australian Science Olympiads is to select the team to represent Australia at the International Science Olympiads, which is exactly what it sounds like – science Olympics for young people!” says Mrs King.

“They are offered for Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Earth & Environmental Science as well as the Junior Science Olympiad. The pathways, connections and skills that these opportunities present for students is invaluable.”