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Moves to lead Eyre Peninsula youth down local career pathways

Regional Showcase

Connecting local businesses and schools to collaborate on STEM research could help keep young people in regional towns, according to Eyre Peninsula local Kellie Taylor.

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Kellie, an analytical chemist based in Cummins, is seeking funding to launch a two-year pilot program to use the high school research projects as a way to connect local students and businesses.

Under the program, senior students would partner with local businesses to undertake research projects with a focus on science, technology, mathematics and engineering (STEM) as part of the school curriculum.

Students would explore STEM solutions that businesses otherwise wouldn’t have time to investigate further – an example being the development of an app to help a business address production bottlenecks.

As part of the program Taylor would also run an established evaluation program called Shooting Stars, used in the United Kingdom to evaluate the impact of the program on students’ ability to feel connected with their community and think innovatively.

Data would assist in the creation of a resource pack to be shared with the SA Department of Education and five schools in the region.

Taylor says she hopes the program could eventually be rolled out in schools across the country, helping instil values of innovation, entrepreneurialism and “outside the box thinking” in students.

This could inspire them to eventually start their own business in their hometowns rather than look for opportunities elsewhere.

“Often rural communities have such low numbers in the STEM classes and attracting exceptional teachers in these topics can be challenging,” she said.

“This program will engage students and instil a sense of belonging and show them what’s possible in their own backyard.

“I don’t really think you can do that at career days. It comes from planting seeds. Relationships between businesses and schools are a missed opportunity.”

Kellie Taylor visits a local Eyre Peninsula school to engage students in science experiments.

The collaborative research program has already drawn interest from seven Eyre Peninsula businesses willing to participate.

Taylor has also shared her plans with the wider community since becoming a finalist of the 2020 AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award.

She says the launch would be dependent on winning the AMP Tomorrow Fund grant, although the Primary Industry and Regions SA (PIRSA) have already pledged in-kind support, while Australian National University has committed two $5000 research scholarships for outstanding students from the program.

Taylor knows what it’s like to move from a small town to a big city.

Finishing high school in Cummins she had never considered a career locally. So, she left the Eyre Peninsula and went to university, studying science and nanotechnology.

Her career has taken her and husband Anton around the country, from goldfields in WA to fishing communities in NSW, the central railway line in NT and gas fields in SA. They’ve also worked in the UK, including oil platforms in the North Sea.

But in 2007, their international career was homeward bound, with Anton’s desire to move back to Cummins.

“But I wasn’t keen on moving back here, I didn’t see any job opportunities for myself,” Kellie says.

“So I eased into it, working fly-in-fly-out shifts and that helped.”

Eventually the couple saw an opportunity in the local agriculture sector and started their own business in Cummins called EP Analysis, a soil, water and environmental sampling and testing service.

“I only really discovered the vast amount of research and the amazing things happening in the area once we started up EP Analysis. We started having those conversations with people taking on amazing research in the area, and that’s when we started seeing all the cool sciences being explored around the Eyre Peninsula.

“I then questioned myself, ‘why did I leave and not consider returning?’” she says.

“I realised that we’re just not engaging our youth with the opportunities in the area.”

Since moving back to the Eyre Peninsula, Taylor has engaged with local schools in the area, holding science talks and demonstrations to encourage students to pursue an interest in STEM subjects.

EP Analysis has also helped facilitate local schools entering into the NATA Young Scientist of the Year Award.

Taylor’s work with local schools and the collaborative research project, if she can pull it off, will provide lifelong learning abilities to youth, encouraging them to be self-motivated in the pursuit of new knowledge and opportunities.

“These students could return to the area or not leave town and create new opportunities and new businesses because they’ve had their mind open to everything that can be done locally,” she says.

“If you have kids that have created their own businesses and can think outside the box then we have a town that is diversified in its employment opportunities resulting in a more sustainable regional community.

“So we’re making a more resilient student or adult out in the world.”

This is story is part of Solstice Media’s Regional Showcase series and awards program. Each week we will bring our readers regional news stories that matter as well as some inspirational tales of individuals and communities doing what country people do best – having a go.

If you have a tale to tell or know of one, get in touch at South Australian Regional Showcase.

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