Full STEAM ahead for Food and Fibre Education SA

Lucy Blenkiron, Faith Lutheran College, winner of the Best Food and Fibre poster at the 2017 Food and Fibre Education SA Science Investigation Awards.

It was standing room only at the finals of the 2017 Science Investigation Awards, in which nearly 900 students entered, engaging with food production and associated careers.

Full STEAM ahead for Food and Fibre Education SA

STEAM = science, technology, engineering, AGRICULTURE and maths

A hands-on approach to engaging students in food and fibre is proving that careers in agriculture are more than just gumboots and tractors.

Grain Producers SA, along with the University of Adelaide and the Royal Agricultural & Horticultural Society, are supporting Food and Fibre Education SA, an initiative which delivers curriculum-linked initiatives which promote innovation and opportunities in grains, livestock, horticulture, meat, wool and dairy.

The initiative is managed by communication and education consultancy AgCommunicators. Director Belinda Cay says there is still a skills shortage in the agricultural industry, with statistics suggesting there are six jobs available for every agricultural graduate.

“Research suggests that students and key influencers such as teachers, careers advisers and parents do not have a clear understanding of what a career in agriculture means. Many equate agriculture with just farming,” she said.

“This perception impacts career decision-making as many city students view farming as an unobtainable or unrelatable career since they do not own a farm, so they zone out. Education programs need to promote innovation and opportunities along the whole food and fibre value chain. They also need to deliver hands-on activities which relate to their lives, interests and professional career ideals.

“To assist, we currently deliver Science Investigation Awards, student career camps, teacher and career adviser professional development, in-school ag days and attend careers events. We also have plans for a student Grains Expo and an ‘Agriculture is STEM initiative’.

“Demand for FFESA’s services are huge, with teachers appreciating the in-school support, curriculum relevance and provision of resources which many schools are unable to afford.”

This year, FFESA’s Science Investigation Awards proved a hit with both regional and metropolitan schools.

“About 960 students from around SA competed in our annual FFESA Science Investigation Awards, a competition which engages students in working scientifically and in experimental design,” Ms Cay said.

The awards involve students selecting a research topic of interest, some recent examples include ‘do plants grow better listening to music’ or ‘do chickens grow bigger when fed diets of soaked wheat or pellets’. Students then construct a hypothesis, design their methodology, collect results and present these in a poster.

Posters are judged in three regional competitions with winners competing in the state finals at the Royal Adelaide Show.

“From the 960 students, our judging team selected 97 to compete at the show. The competition was fierce, with awards given to the top three entries from each year. Students received cash prizes of up to $300, show ribbons, the opportunity to display their poster at the show and they even got some media coverage,” Ms Cay said.

“This initiative is really helping to inspire students to study agricultural science at university, with many coming to us to seek work experience. We are also seeing them actually sign up to agrelated courses. We know what we are doing is working.”

FFESA also has a careers booth which is filling a niche, representing the whole food and fibre sector at careers events throughout SA.

“Our team takes an interactive booth to careers events, shows and field days which enables students to gain advice on tertiary, trade and certificate study pathways and associated careers,” she said. “We never stop talking as we are often the only agricultural related booth there, students are interested.”

The team has attended all major careers events in SA this year, including the Adelaide Careers and Employment Expo, the Immanuel College Careers Expo, Tertiary Study Careers Expo, the Royal Adelaide Show, the SACE Research Expo and Adelaide Hills Careers Expo.

“One of our biggest events was exhibiting at Science Alive! where the stand was so popular with parents and children that 14 kilograms of wheat was milled in the hand mills, 12kg of oats was rolled, 900 children planted their own cereal crop and 600 students made their own woolly sheep.”

Schools are invited to get in touch if they would like to be involved with FFESA programs.

“Students can apply for the ‘Full STEAM Ahead’ careers camp, teachers can come along to our professional development day in November which will be held in partnership with the University of Adelaide and we are seeking partnership schools to form a science investigation cluster around the Waite Campus region.

“We welcome all new schools, teachers and students. We are also keen to support new industry partnerships as the only thing limiting growth is funds.”

Details: To get involved contact Belinda Cay, AgCommunicators, 08 8332 3277 or belinda.cay@agcommunicators.com.au