Student praise for schools symposium inspires veski for next decade

9 May
veski innovation fellow Dr Matt Call leads students on a lab tour at WEHI

“Interesting”, “intriguing” and “amazing” were just some of the words students chose to describe the experience of participating in Tuesday’s veski schools symposium, part of the veski inspiring students (& teachers) program.

The boys, so effusive in their praise as they departed the veski event, were part of a 200-strong cohort of secondary school boys and girls from four regional schools who attended the highly successful event held at the Walter & Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI) in Parkville.

The veski symposium, held on 7 May 2014 during veski’s week-long 10-year anniversary celebrations, gave students from Years 7 to 10 an insight into real-world science through dynamic presentations, speed-meetings, and behind-the-scene tours of the WEHI laboratories led by veski family members and their research teams.

“Judging by this early and overwhelmingly positive feedback, the students were clearly inspired by our symposium which only reinforces the need to hold more events like this one and much more often. The symposium has truly been an inspiring exercise for us as well,” veski’s chief executive officer Ms Julia L Page said.

The pilot inspiring students (& teachers) program is designed to lift participation rates and interest in science among regional Victorian students. Students from Neerim District, Mooroopna, Kyneton and Keysborough secondary colleges, representing Gippsland, Hume and Loddon Mallee, attended Tuesday’s event.

“Over the past ten years we’ve been increasing student engagement in science activities, developing teacher capacity, and increasing awareness of science technology, engineering and mathematics-related career opportunities to students, teachers and parents. Now, and over the next decade, it’s clear we need to assist more Victorians to make science a bigger part of their lives and focus on lifting student participation because the number of high-performing students is continually less than that of our national and international counterparts,” Ms Page said.

The half-day event provided students with an opportunity to participate in speed-meeting opportunities with 15 prominent scientists who returned to Victoria as veski innovation fellows over the past 10 years. The students appreciated the fellows’ punchy, three-minute presentations focused on a range of areas from cancer and inflammatory diseases to dengue and malaria to advanced materials and enzymes.

Among the highlights was Dr Mark Shackleton’s presentation in which he commenced with an attention-grabbing invitation to “look into the eyes of the people sitting on either side of you and then put your hand up if you’re not suffering from diarrhoea right now”. The stunt led into a discussion about the importance of discovery, using as an example one of history’s most important breakthroughs: the modern sewerage system preventing millions of deaths globally from waterborne diseases such as cholera.

The symposium also gave students the chance to share their own stories about becoming a scientist via a uniquely modern take on the traditional ‘soap box’ in which they could, by expressing an opinion or asking a question, have input into the veski “Smart Australia 2030” symposium held on Thursday 8 May.

At the final stage of the schools symposium, students gathered over lunch in a room, surrounded by a gallery of portraits of the veski innovation fellows and family members, to hear an announcement by Master of Ceremonies Chris K-P that the winner of a quirky, 10-question quiz, based on answers the MC elicited from presenters during 1-minute question-and-answer sessions, was... (drumroll) Mooroopna Secondary College.

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