Alumni in the classroom - supporting science students' success

Fenella Colyer, winner of the Prime Minister's Teaching Award in 2013, has nurtured scientific minds at Manurewa High School for the past 17 years. Her students consistently perform well in the regional Science Fair and other external competitions at both regional and national levels, which she selects as advancement opportunities for them. Success in these events has been the catalyst for many distinguished careers in the sciences, and many of those students have returned to school to help the next generation succeed.
“The goal is often simply for alumni to talk about their careers to inspire and motivate the students,” Mrs Colyer says. “But we’ve also asked alumni to give context to a real-world topic, such as the Christchurch earthquake, and to support extension.”
Matthew Richardson, who is an electronics engineer, was able to help a student realise an innovative concept that would stop her slouching while playing piano. “She wanted to make a belt with a built-in monitor that would alert her to her posture. We didn’t know enough about electronics to make it, but with Matthew’s help, she ended up doing really well in the Science Fair.”
Another alumni who would be amenable to supporting science students is recently graduated architect Rita Mouchi, who as a student won the Science Fair with her design for a new form of cladding that would solve the leaky home problem. It was the beginning of a future career.
A regular in the Physics classroom is Owen Colbert, who as well as sharing knowledge, supports a science prize and scholarships.
The opportunities to connect with “real world” scientists contributes to a culture of excellence in the Science department. Every year talented students gain national recognition for their work.
Recently, a group of Year 12 students won the Otago University Information Technology Challenge with a mobile phone app that enables citizens to give feedback on proposed urban developments. The app sends an automatic notification when the user goes past a proposed development site. If the user then views the site through the smartphone camera, a 3D image of the proposed development is superimposed over the view by augmented reality. The user can then give instant feedback by way of a yes/no vote. They can also link into Facebook forums to discuss the issue. The council and the developer can then access the data, enabling them to understand community views based on demographic profiles. App developers Daniel Blakeborough (left), Amy Scott (middle) and Garion Gleeson are looking forward to the opportunity to further refine their app with the Otago University’s support.
The department is also justly proud of Paul Stainthorpe, one of five secondary students selected nationally as a finalist in the prestigious Sir Paul Callaghan Awards. The focus of his entry was the threat of wasps to the New Zealand bee and honey industry.  At the final, held in Wellington in July, he delivered a 12-minute speech to an audience of 200 top academics. He came away with $1000 in prize money, some valuable introductions to senior representatives in New Zealand’s science community, and an invitation to do a followup presentation at an Institute of Professional Engineers of NZ seminar.
“We’re very grateful for the help of alumni in our programmes, and they enjoy the opportunity to give back,” Mrs Colyer says.

Alumni can contact Mrs Colyer via email at: [email protected]


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