Now in its second year, the BrainSTEM Rural Innovation Challenge is giving students in Gippsland Vic an introduction to the type of skills that might be needed in a future job in the region's thriving food and fibre industries.
Over the last three months, a selection of Gippsland secondary school students have been working on a diverse range of projects – all of them aiming to offer a solution to a challenge, a problem or an issue in the region’s food and fibre sector.
This is the first time that it has been focused on food and fibre, something that has been welcomed by industry and educators in a region where the sector is worth seven billion dollars.
The Challenge is part of the GIPPYAg project, an initiative of Food & Fibre Gippsland in partnership with CQUniversity Australia with financial support from the Victorian Government. The BrainSTEM Rural Innovation Challenge was also supported by the Baw Baw and Latrobe Valley Local Learning and Employment Network (LLEN), South Gippsland and Bass Coast LLEN and East Gippsland LLEN.
From August to late October, a group of industry professionals took on the role as mentors with Year 9 and 10 students from schools across Gippsland, including Gippsland Grammar, Lowanna College, Leongatha and Maffra Secondary Schools.
The student groups, together with their assigned mentor attended an introduction day at the Gippsland Tech School where they discussed challenges faced by industry and the region, and collaboratively decided on a topic to address.
The topics ranged from reducing greenhouse gases, creating QR Codes and developing a cattle scanning programme to measurement and control of botrytis in greenhouses, promotion of Gippsland’s produce, making careers in dairy more attractive and an investigative approach to comparative milk pricing.
Dr Amy Cosby, who manages the GIPPYAg Project said: “It was invigorating to see young people from the Gippsland region come up with potential solutions to a range of issues using science, technology and business concepts.
“Not only did students learn about the food and fibre industry, they developed real word knowledge that they will utilise in their future careers including teamwork, problem solving and written and oral communication skills” she said.
Food & Fibre Gippsland’s Communications and Engagement Manager, Jody O’Brien mentored an all-girls group from Gippsland Grammar who came up with a concept of how to promote Gippsland’s produce.
“For me it was a really positive journey that pushed me out of my comfort zone, making me think about different ways I wanted and needed to explain and share my knowledge so the group was then able to interpret and take it in their own direction to come up with ideas and solutions," she said
The BrainSTEM Challenge is an annual event, and it is hoped that a similar rural challenge can be rolled out again in 2020.