Building diversity in STEM & freshwater science

In the lead up to the Freshwater Sciences Downunder conference in Brisbane this week, Griffith University’s Australian Rivers Institute hosted a group of minority students from the United States as part of the Society for Freshwater Science (SFS) Emerge Program.

Professor Stuart Bunn, Australian Rivers Institute. Image: Joe McMahon.

“The Emerge Program is a fantastic initiative, aimed at broadening diversity, inclusion and participation in the aquatic sciences by supporting people from underrepresented minority groups to pursue careers in this field,” said Professor Stuart Bunn from the Australian Rivers Institute.

To increase the diversity in perspectives in freshwater conservation and the freshwater science community, the SFS Emerge Program provides people from a broad range of backgrounds a chance to reach their potential in this field through fellowship and mentorship.

Professor Mark Kennard, an ecologist from the Australian Rivers Institute, developed a freshwater science field program for the group in the Mary (Moonaboola) River in Southeast Queensland.

“We are giving this group of emerging aquatic scientists a feel for what it’s like to undertake freshwater science and catchment restoration on one of Australia’s most interesting river systems,” Professor Kennard said.

After a Welcome to Country from the local Jinibara people, the students toured rehabilitation sites with the Burnett Mary Regional Group and Mary River Catchment Coordinating Committee and got to see the unique fauna of the Mary River, including the Australian lungfish and Mary River turtle.

This type of sustained peer-peer and peer-mentor relationships and the strong sense of group identity that the students build out of these experiences may play a particularly important role in efforts to recruit and retain underrepresented minorities in STEM.

Dr Mark Kennard, from Griffith University's Australian Rivers Institute
Professor Mark Kennard, from Griffith University’s Australian Rivers Institute

The students wrapped up their visit with a trip to Noosa National Park and the Australia Zoo on their way back to the SFS conference in Brisbane.

“We are delighted to be hosting the 2023 joint meeting of the Society for Freshwater Science and the Australian and New Zealand Freshwater Science societies here in Brisbane,” Professor Bunn said.

“This is the first time the Society for Freshwater Science has held its annual conference outside of North America and presents an opportunity to broaden ‘north-south’ collaborations and explore solutions to the many challenges facing our freshwater ecosystems.”

“With over 750 delegates attending from 30 countriesspread across the globe, this is an exciting and timely event for our river city.”