Partnering in STEM – Sydney

By Salesforce.org | February 11, 2016 | STEM

STEM

By: Rob Cheyne, Director, Strategic Innovation ANZ at Salesforce

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) is everywhere; it shapes our experiences at home, in the workplace and most of what we interact with on a daily basis. The development of STEM will shape our future. However there’s a problem – while there is a rising demand for STEM skills in the workforce, there is a declining number of females enrolling in STEM courses post high school.

One of the focuses of Salesfore.org is to develop partnerships with educators and organisations working in STEM to develop innovative, scalable solutions to address this.

Over the last couple of months, Salesforce.org has been developing an important relationship with Casula High School in Sydney in an attempt to better understand young female’s relationship with and perception of STEM, and to help teachers at Casula re-imagine STEM subjects and to position them as a cool and interesting

One of the perks of working at Salesforce, is having 48 hours paid time off per year to volunteer with causes we care about most. Last year, I dedicated many of my hours working with the students, teachers and leadership from Casula High School.

Hour of Code

It all kicked off with an Hour of Code session at the Salesforce offices in Sydney. It was wonderful to see how the 40 young females worked together to solve the challenges presented by the Hour of Code – and it was clear that they were having a great time.

However, when I asked them – “what are your thoughts on future fields of study and career paths” – none of them said anything relating to STEM?

I left the session with a new awareness of the challenges faced by educators in attracting females to STEM subjects – it seems that even if young females have a strong interest or aptitude for STEM – that doesn’t necessarily translate to a course of further study or future vocation.

It got me thinking; what is it about STEM and how it’s positioned that fails to attract and retain female students?

This question is also one that Casula High School takes very seriously. Their principal Jennifer French believes that “schools have a moral and historic responsibility to ensure that every student has access to quality learning opportunities and teaching practices that can prepare them for entry into the digital economy.​”

STEM Ignite Session

Eager to explore, we decided to run a short workshop with the Casula High School teaching faculty to see if we could identify some root causes of negative female perceptions of STEM and ways to approach change. We invited 20 teachers, all passionate about this topic, to join us at the Salesforce offices.

Like any Ignite session, the workshop focused on the real experts, the teachers – with the goal of helping them re-imagine the ways they present STEM subjects to the student community. The Ignite innovation team within Salesforce are known for our love of tackling big challenges like this!

salesforce ignite - STEM

One of the activities we used, teased out disruptive ways of engaging with female students around STEM. The “Orthodoxy Buster” exercise aims to challenge the status-quo by identifying new potentially disruptive ways of engaging – in this case, with students.

Using post-its, we identified “What’ “Why” and a potential “New Model”. We also asked the teachers to challenge some of the core orthodoxies STEM students encounter.

salesforce ignite - STEM

The resulting conversation was fascinating; there was a whole host of creative ideas, ranging from – better showcasing female achievements, to breaking down the “you must be a genius” stereotype and appealing more to the design skills required in many STEM subjects to encourage a broader appeal.  

What’s Next

Salesforce.org is really excited about the growing partnership with Casula High School, and thrilled to be able to connect with them on a number of STEM initiatives in 2016. We’re already planning a more in depth workshop, using Persona Based Design Thinking techniques and many more engagements. I for one, am very excited about this!

Check out more of Salesforce.org’s STEM partnership stories here >>