High school girls are striding into STEM learning with Griffith’s hands-on support

Dr Maharaj (left) and Dr Diamond (right) with RSHS students.

Griffith University researchers have recently concluded a 100-day Biomedical Research and Innovation Challenge (BRInC) on the Gold Coast, designed to expose and inspire girls to pursue STEM at the university level.

Funded by the Federal Governments Australian Industry Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship, Griffiths Dr Laura Diamond and Dr Jayishni Mahraji were two of the eight code-developing, chief investigators behind BRInC.

The pair also mentored Robina State High Students (RSHS) through the programs first in-person series.

Associate Professor from Griffiths Centre of Biomedical and Rehabilitation Engineering (GCORE) Dr Laura Diamond said one of the main reasons for girls not engaging in STEM is that they haven’t been exposed to it, had the opportunity to learn about different disciplines or have their interest peaked.

It was very satisfying to see the girls so engaged and to see their growth over the ten weeks, Dr Diamond said. 

Some have never been to a university, never mind experienced a biomechanics lab.

I think as females working in STEM research, we have a certain responsibility to the future, so having the opportunity to expose the students to this was really important knowing that they’re our future innovators.

Dr Jayishni Mahraji, who won a Queensland Women in STEM prize for her development of BRInC, was first to deliver the program to an under-resourced rural school online during Covid.

“By involving and exposing the students, you’re breaking down those barriers and letting them know the world of STEM is for girls and women as much as men,” she said.

Guided by the design-thinking process, RSHS students identified and selected one problem from brainstorming sessions, that being the foot pain and observed irregular gait one of their friends showed when wearing school shoes.

The students then took measurements and produced hand drawn sketches, playdough models, computer aided designs, and finally a 3D printed prototype of an insole which was tested in Griffith’s biomechanics and ADAPT labs.

Access to Griffith’s ADAPT labs, which contain everything from the latest medical grade metal 3D printer, to advanced post-fabrication processing and nano-technology equipment, was a particular highlight for the students.

Year 10 student Daisy said: “I really enjoyed visiting the biomechanics lab at Griffith University to work directly with Laura and Jayishni.” 

“This experience allowed us to not only print our prototype, but with the use of the technology within the lab it allowed us to see how it could help people.”

Kittana, in year 10, said: “My favourite part of the BRInC experience was visiting Griffith University, seeing the different types of machinery used to design and test new equipment and how to use them.”

“Originally, I had no clue what biomechanics was and was doing the program because it was something science related and a good opportunity.

“After BRInC, I feel that I have a better understanding of what biomechanics is and the opportunities it could potentially hold as a future career.”

Robina State High School science teacher Ms Cherie Nelson said the school’s participation in the BRInC program has allowed her students to gain understanding in a new field of STEM they had not previously been exposed to.

To be able to go from an idea to professionally testing a product was a highlight for the girls, as this is something that most of them had never experienced before.

The weekly mentorship provided by Jayishni and Laura was invaluable too.

Their passion, knowledge and empathy empowered my students to step into an unknown field and experience success in their collaborative work.

I now have students discussing new career paths they had not previously heard about and considering how this may fit within their futures, as well as other students interested to get involved next year.

STEM teacher Cherie Nelson, Dr Jayishi Maraji, RSHS students and Dr Laura Diamond.

Enthusiastically backing a second-year proposal for BRInC, RSHS student Claire said: “I learnt a lot about biomechanics and about career opportunities that come with it, having also gained valuable skills for the future such as communication and problem solving.”

Researchers say the sustainability of the program is dependent on further funding and onboarding more mentors.

“The second component to the BRInC program is about developing the mentoring capability of early career female biomechanists doing research in Australia,” Dr Diamond said.

“The idea is that would prepare them for a future leadership role within academia or industry wherever their career is may take them.

“Now we’re going through a process of potentially developing a business model, our goal being to acquire more mentors, because right now we’ve got more schools wanting to engage with BRInC than researchers to run it.

The diversely skilled group behind BRInC hopes to eventually move the program beyond borders and to the international stage.