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11 September 2017

Inspiration comes from all places – and all people.  For Dr Honor Hugo, a high school biology teacher sparked her first real love of science.

The QUT cancer researcher and biomedical science lecturer has forged her own successful career and has now also created a program to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) to kids in rural Queensland. There is much to offer from our expertise within the Faculty of Health in this area, including life science, physiology, technological applications and data analysis.

It’s called INSPIRE – Implementing Novel STEM Partnerships in Rural Education.

“I had a great high school biology teacher who was enthusiastic and presented biology in a different and dynamic way,” Dr Hugo said.

“It got me interested in science, as I knew I wanted to ‘help people’ and make a difference, but up until then didn’t really know how.

“I want all high school students to have their first exposure to science in the same way that I did – in a fun and enthusiastic way. There are some really great science teachers out in the rural areas of Queensland. INSPIRE is to help them too – to support them in the amazing job they do.”

Dr Hugo received a $10,000 Advance Queensland Engaging Science Grant for INSPIRE to send dynamic duos to three regional towns during National Science Week in August to share their own stories about studying and working at university.

The trips involved three of QUT’s best and brightest final-year students from health and science fields, who were teamed up with postgraduate and postdoctoral mentors.

Victoria Wall (Bachelor of Medical Laboratory Science) and engineering PhD student Raymond Ho’s trip was to the tiny town of Normanton, up near the Gulf of Carpentaria, where they did talks and workshops with the Normanton State School and local community.

Laura Cafferky (Bachelor of Biomedical Science) teamed up with PhD student James Monkman to visit students at Kingaroy High School.

And last, but not least, Bailey Millard (Bachelor of Biomedical Science) was paired with public health postdoctoral researcher Dr Sanjeewa Kularatna and headed to the mining town of Mt Isa to meet Spinifex State College students.

“Each pair delivered a talk to the community based upon their own journey so far in science,” Dr Hugo said.

“They also had some hands-on fun – and even did some rocket launching and skull building!”

Dr Hugo was part of the Catch a Rising Star program last year which involved similar outreach visits and took her to Mount Isa.

“I had the privilege to talk to the primary school students up there about my research,” she said.

“The best part of visiting those kids was the look on their faces – particularly the girls, when I said that they too could be scientists one day. The kids had loads of questions! Kids are natural scientists, they are curious about the world around them. I sometimes feel like a kid too! I promised that I would send more scientists to their town, so INSPIRE builds upon those connections.

And while INSPIRE targets high school students, Dr Hugo said it was never too early to introduce children to STEM.

She has four young children of her own and said she loved it when they asked questions about the world around them, as this was the key driver for all scientists.

“It’s important to listen to children’s questions and acknowledge and encourage this questioning behaviour,” she said.

“It makes me proud when I see them also being curious because it leads to asking questions and this is how we learn.

“The greatest discoveries that have changed health care have come from scientists asking the question ‘Why?’.  If you find yourself wondering about your world, you are already on your way!”

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