Queensland’s greatest strength has always been — and will always be — the people who choose to call it home. From the third to fourth generation locals with a vision to the talented people the State attracts from all over the world, Queensland is a home for anyone who wants to make the most of the opportunities available, and the opportunities yet to be created with their help.
And it all starts with impassioned educators; those with an understanding of how the world is changing, and how education and innovation must work hand in hand to give the next generation of Queenslanders every opportunity to achieve success in the evolving workforces of the world.
Sarah Chapman — or Ms Chapman to her high school science students — is the type of teacher every parent wishes for their child.
“I want my students to be critical thinkers, problem solvers, innovators and creators,” Ms Chapman said.
“I want to enable my students to be empowered by what they are learning and be a part of the response to future needs through the learning process today and in the future.”
By her own admission, the Townsville State High School Head of Department knows her hopes and vision may seem utopic to some, but she’s a fervent believer that students are no longer just learners — they are an integral component to the Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) ecosystem.
“Sparking the sense of wonder early at home, teamed with a united vision and strong partnerships, students can be enabled to be active citizens in our community today — and the problem solvers of tomorrow,” Ms Chapman said.
Growing up in rural north Queensland, Sarah Chapman’s sense of wonder was inbuilt from an early age.
“We lived at a small school called Hawkins Creek near Ingham for three years, and Airville State School, a rural school near Ayr for sixteen years, where my Dad was a teaching Principal,” she said.
“I was one of those kids who was very interested in always questioning things and finding out about the wonders of nature. The school’s project club forestry plot and vegetable garden patch were a window into the natural world. I have vivid memories of planting seeds, tending to young plants, and enjoying the literal fruits — and vegetables! — of that school work, as well as examining all of these components through a magnifying glass.”
“Being in a rural area, at times it was a struggle to connect with opportunities to grow my interest in science, but I had a wonderful high school science teacher who inspired my interests as much as he could. I managed to follow my passion and study a Bachelor of Science, then completed my Honours in cell death following traumatic brain injury.”
After a time working in research and then science communication and event management, Sarah returned to James Cook University in Townsville and studied to become a secondary science teacher.
I have worked for 15 years in the state school system, where I have taught students from all walks of life, all socio-economic circumstances, students with an indigenous ancestry, and students recently arrived in Australia with minimal English language skills,” Ms Chapman said.
“Regardless of the backgrounds and circumstances of my students, it is thrilling to connect them with the universal skillset of science, that helps them to question things just as I did as a student. I have an absolutely amazing opportunity to inspire young people every day and share my passion of science with them.
“It is a challenging occupation but a tremendously rewarding one, when you get to be the person who connects a young person with science. To see their eyes light up and connect with the wonder of science is truly amazing, and necessary to inspire and empower our problem solvers of tomorrow.
“It is also rewarding to be a part of empowering young girls, connecting them with science and building their confidence around their own potential, so they can pursue a career in STEM and make a difference.
“My philosophy and actions extend beyond the traditional educational bounds to contribute towards the education and advocacy of STEM education at all levels. I believe my outward contributions and connections have brought about evolution and positive change in education and the community.
“I have demonstrated that interconnectedness can ensure the betterment of education.”
In 2016, Sarah Chapman was appointed as the foundation Deputy Principal of the Global Tropics Future (GTF) Project, initially a one-year collaboration between the Queensland Government’s Department of Education and Training and James Cook University.
The project aim was to provide enhanced education opportunities in STEM for students in Years 5 to 9 across north Queensland, and to develop new and innovative models of instructional practice for possible widespread adoption across the state.
“My role was to take a high-level strategic plan and develop operational capabilities to ensure an innovative and relevant curriculum was conceptualised, designed, written and tested, ready for delivery to an initial cohort of 30 students within 10 months,” Ms Chapman said.
“This new model involved the development of regular sessions connecting primary and secondary students, face-to-face with university and industry experts.
“ It pioneered multi-day events where students from across year levels and from different schools met with university, government and industry experts, to work on two grand challenges.
“These challenges included rapid prototyping exercises which identified and solved real-world problems, and a virtual, scalable, online learning platform.”
Sarah’s model and year-long work developing the GTF Project was deemed a success and was continued for more than 12 months.
As a result of the innovative foundations set by the program, it has been adopted more widely across Queensland and expanded in regards to the number of activities being delivered and amount of students participating.
“The outcomes of the work have been quite significant, with participation expanding from 70 students from seven schools in 2016, to 126 students from 19 north Queensland schools by September 2017,” Ms Chapman said.
“The model has also been expanded to the Cairns education region in far north Queensland and the online learning space has been adopted state-wide as the Queensland Virtual STEM Academy.
“This means students from remote North Queensland schools now regularly join the Queensland Virtual STEM Academy program to engage with specialist STEM practitioners, STEM teachers and fellow students, connecting them with people beyond locational limits.”
As someone who grew up in rural and regional north Queensland, connection beyond locational limits is something very close to Sarah Chapman’s heart — both personally and professionally.
“I have experienced first-hand the disconnect with opportunities in the STEM sector and now that I am an educator in the same region, I have come across an expansive talent pool of capable and resilient young people,” she said.
“The thirst of young people in regional areas, to contribute towards the broader ecosystem is great, however, the opportunities are limited.
“Fishing from the same pond in metropolitan areas, means that eventually the talent will be exhausted. An expansive reach ensures a better representation of the diverse nation we live in and increases the volume of our voices for STEM.
“Programs that invest in long-term enrichment and development of STEM skills in regional and remote areas is essential — connecting with regional contexts and providing authentic and meaningful experiences for young people is essential.
“This is an untapped source of talent! In the day and age we live in, advances in technology should enable and empower those that are marginalised by distance. Every voice and every mind is important — opportunity should be available for everyone to reach and or exceed their potential.”
Netherlands-based Nannette Ripmeester is another female education trailblazer sharing in this belief.
Ms Ripmeester was recently appointed ‘Innovator in Residence’ on employability for Study Queensland, to help build on the state’s reputation as a study location of choice for international students looking for new opportunities.
Assigned to the role by State Government, she will work throughout 2019 to tailor Queensland’s offerings, ensuring students are getting the best possible employment opportunities — with a Queensland supported tertiary education.
In her role as Director of Expertise in Labour Mobility, Ms Ripmeester frequently presents on employability, graduate outcomes and cultural differences across the globe.
“In a nutshell, I know what makes people employable,” ” Ms Ripmeester said.
“I have worked for decades to figure out the links between education and the global job market, supporting both companies, governments and higher education institutions to bridge the gap between education and work.
“I experienced enthusiasm during my master thesis about the mismatch between education and the labour market — and this led to my current career.
“I’ve also worked at the European Commission supporting European labour mobility, and more recently, on the creation of the CareerProfessor.works app — which trains global employability skills through means of gamification of careers advice and intercultural learning.
“As research shows, Queensland’s reputation as a safe and welcoming place for international students is a big selling point for the state, so I’m keen to help build on that reputation and put Queensland on the map for international students as a study and a career opportunity.
“I’ll help to strengthen the ‘start here, go anywhere’ feeling and make people realise Queensland is more than just ‘a golden coast’.
“I hope to support this by ensuring Queensland is considered a first-rate option for a newly graduated student to start a strong, fulfilling career, now and in the future.
“It’s important graduates don’t have just a textbook understanding but instead a real-life understanding of what it takes to bridge the gap from education to the world of work, and make the next career move.
“While in the Innovator in Residence role, I will work to help implement innovative actions which may be implemented to fully support graduates from Queensland as well as those who come here to study — to maximise their personal employability.”