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Mentor program scales up

The Bionics Institute evaluated their Girls in STEM Mentoring Program using the STEM Equity Evaluation Portal. They found the Portal was a useful tool to help guide decisions for improving the program.

The Bionics Institute is a medical research institute with a bioengineering focus. Their STEM equity program aims to inspire more young women to choose a career in STEM.

The Girls in STEM Mentoring Program, which launched in 2019, has grown from just two students from one school to 80 students from 20 schools and 30 mentors in 2023. Leading women working in science are matched with high school students in years 10 and 11, giving them an insight into what a career in science might look like.

The program evaluation found that several participants changed their STEM subject preference to engineering because of the program.

Jo Crowston, head of marketing and communications at the Bionics Institute, shares her reasons for using the Portal to evaluate the mentoring program.

“We’re aiming to expand our program nationally and wanted the transparency of a publicly available report for stakeholders, including sponsors, schools and mentors.

“We will use the downloadable PDF to attract and inform event stakeholders.”

Jo doesn’t have a research background, but she found the evaluation easy to complete. The tools were very useful in helping her select the program objectives and evaluate whether the program met those objectives.

Undertaking and publishing the evaluation was integral to the Bionics Institute’s marketing strategy, says Jo.

“All marketing activities are driven by metrics and feedback and an external evaluation is a useful tool to ensure improvement of this program.”

For Jo, the ‘Define’ stage of the evaluation was the most valuable because it enabled her to clearly identify the problems the program is trying to address and the goals it is trying to achieve.

“We have a broad goal of inspiring young women to pursue a career in STEM, but as the program expands, we recognise the need to hone this further.”

To achieve this Jo says the program will focus on two key areas: Increasing student understanding of career and study options available in STEM; and increasing student engagement in STEM learning experiences.

“This will enable us to give more detailed guidance to our mentors that’s focused on outcomes for participants and obtain feedback that demonstrates change in these areas as a result of the program.”

Jo said the participant surveys taken as part of the evaluation enabled her to clearly identify actions to implement that will improve the experience of all involved with the program.

“We strive for the Bionics Institute Girls in STEM Mentoring Program to be a ‘high impact – low time’ experience for everyone involved.”

The evaluation revealed three key points of action for the three stakeholder groups of the program: students, mentors, and teachers.

Students indicated an interest in more lab-time and more hands-on experiences, so the Bionics Institute will offer an open house event, which will take place during the 2023 National Science Week.

Mentors requested additional guidance for their sessions, so a set of guidelines have been developed to provide that support.

Teachers wanted clearer communication around participation expectations, so a step-by-step program document has been developed to replace the plethora of emails and documents that were sent back and forth previously.

The Bionics Institute’s Girls in STEM Mentoring Program evaluation is published on the STEM Equity Evaluation Portal.

The STEM Equity Evaluation Portal has been developed by the Office of Australia’s Women in STEM Ambassador to offer practical advice to help STEM equity program leaders evaluate their programs. The Portal is also a searchable repository to discover program evaluations and learn what works and doesn’t work to improve equity. Start your program evaluation today.