Regional Kids Seeing STARS
A program called STARS from ANU and ASTRO 3D is bringing telescopes and astronomy knowledge to regional schools across Australia to help bridge the gap in STEM experiences between rural and big city students.
Scientists Taking Astronomy to Regional Schools (STARS) is on the road to help regional students get a better look at the night sky. This program is a joint initiative from the Australian National University (ANU) and All-Sky Astrophysics in 3D (ASTRO 3D), and has been delivering powerful telescopes to regional schools and giving lessons on how to use them. This is all in an effort to bring science experiences to regional schools, who often don’t get the same opportunities as those in big cities.
“Country kids can study STEM subjects at school, but access to professionals and specialist programs is difficult because they are mainly located in larger towns and cities,” said ASTRO 3D’s Dr Delese Brewster, one of the architects of the program.
The STARS program has already visited places such as north Queensland and Western Australia. This year, the first leg of the roadshow was in Tasmania, visiting high schools in Launceston, Exeter, and Ulverstone. Dr Brad Tucker from ANU and ASTRO 3D, who was key in the creation of the STARS project, commented on the unique opportunities that these regional students have when it comes to astronomy.
"In areas like the north of Tasmania, away from city lights, the skies are very dark and filled with stars everywhere, a truly breathtaking sight," Dr Tucker said.
Each school visited by the program is donated an 8” Dobsonian telescope as part of the program to promote ongoing hands-on learning in astronomy.
"By using a good quality telescope you can see so much more. We hope that the students, schools and the communities will be able to make good, continuing use of the ones we bring,” said Dr Tucker.
As well as delivering telescopes, STARS also delivers the experience of working with real-world scientists to school kids who otherwise don’t get to interact with STEM professionals in person. This can have major impacts on career choices down the road for kids who otherwise would not consider working in STEM. Adam Rains, who grew up in north Queensland and joined Dr Tucker for the first STARS roadshow, highlighted the importance of bringing these experiences to regional kids.
“When I did my undergrad, I didn’t really look outside Townsville for study because of the impact geography has on opportunity. And that can be compounded many times over for people who have very different lived experiences to mine.
“There’s a lower density of STEM outreach in regional areas, particularly astronomy where North Queensland is concerned, so I hope I helped remedy that in some way,” he said.
The latest leg of the STARS roadshow saw astronomers visiting schools in Cowra and Orange in New South Wales, where students received telescopes and lessons on how to use them, and where public star-gazing events were held once the sun went down.
The STARS program from May 2021 - 2022 is funded by a Federal Government Maker Projects: Community STEM Engagement grant, which is aimed at encouraging STEM education in schools.