Twenty-five years ago, two Townsville teachers set out to tackle the high drop-out rate in Year 11 and 12 STEM subjects such as physics.
They decided that a key problem was that students simply ‘couldn’t see the point’ of much of the complex material involved.
The pair went on to launch The Engineering Link Group (TELG), and its programs have since reached more than 4000 students and hundreds of teachers.
Chairman Paul Richards says he and fellow founder Greg Millican started TELG with the idea of demonstrating the real-world value of science subjects.
“We tried several different ideas before hitting on using engineering as a vehicle to show how science and maths are used to solve problems,” he said.
“We were helped a lot here by James Cook University, who knew considerably more than us about engineering.
“Essentially we now put groups of about 20 senior school students with an engineer, who talks briefly about his or her decision to become an engineer, what they needed to do, why they chose their particular discipline, and finally they present the students with a problem, list the materials available and get them to design a solution.”
Spreading the word
AusIMM support early on helped the pair take the concept beyond their two schools and make it a Townsville-wide event.
Federal funding has since seen the program expand throughout Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.
The group’s offerings include Engineering Link Projects (ELP) for senior STEM students and Linking Engineers and Scientists with Teachers (LEaST) professional development workshops, as well as a Queensland-wide spaghetti bridge competition.
In 2015 it introduced STEM Sell – where TELG, in partnership with local engineers, Engineers Australia and Defence Force Recruiting, runs a series of STEM workshops for entire year levels at host schools.
Crucial backing from the profession
The support of Engineers Australia and many individual engineers has been a key plank in the success of TELG programs.
“I’m often surprised at how much two part-time people have done, on very little funding” Mr Richards says of TELG’s achievements.
“We’ve often marvelled at the enormous goodwill from the engineers we work with, who often seem to have more fun than the students.
“It would be nice to get more recognition and funds from the State and Federal education departments, rather than just from the schools and the teachers and industry and engineering.”
More than 350 schools have sent students to engineering link programs since 1994 and the latest figures available (to 2017) show about 84 per cent of students participating in the activities have gone on to study engineering.
“We expect to become the recognised leaders in developing links between Australian schools and industry, which will help to produce more engineers and scientists,” Mr Richards said.
It would also encourage industry to have a lot more influence in the teaching of science and maths and ultimately produce science and maths classrooms where students looked forward to their studies, he said.
Among TELG’s goals for 2019 is to increase its reach in the regions, offering a modified program for students followed by a single-day Linking Engineers and Scientists with Teachers workshop.