Google's AU$1m grant to help introduce 10,000 students to STEM careers

Google is teaming up with three not-for-profit organisations to help train and raise the STEM capabilities of underrepresented groups, including women, low socio-economic groups, and Indigenous Australians.

Google Australia has announced that it will be providing AU$1 million to three not-for-profit organisations as part of plans to introduce 10,000 underrepresented young Australians to careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

The fund will be split between the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience (AIME), First Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Robotics Australia, and Engineers Without Borders Australia. It will deliver hands-on training and career programs targeting underrepresented groups in STEM, including students living in rural and remote Australia; Indigenous Australians; women; and those from a low socio-economic (SES) background.

Speaking to ZDNet, Google Australia engineer director Alan Noble said this is the first time for Google to be specifically involved in raising Australia's STEM capabilities.

"We think this is one way we can help give back, and I expect we'll be continuing interesting initiatives like this with years to come. We're very focused with these three organisations right now, because they're specifically going to go address some of the underrepresented areas -- rural and remote, Indigenous Australians and women, and low socio-economic groups," he said.

"This has somehow made it more challenging, because you've got this million dollars, but we're saying, 'don't just go after wealthy, urban schools'; let's see what we can do around creating more opportunities for the greater segment of the population."

Noble added that the three organisations had been chosen mainly because of their track record of being able to work with young children, and said he hopes that by improving the awareness of STEM education in Australia, there will be a greater uptake of it at university level.

"We do have a robust education system. However, we need way more graduates with these types of skills. These skills are necessary for jobs of the future. If you look at the Australian economy right now, across the entire sector of the economy, whether you're in banking or the resource sector, you're either becoming a technology company or you're increasingly becoming more reliant on technology, so it's really the STEM skills that are the jobs of the future," he said.

For AIME, the grant will be used to incorporate more STEM content into the curriculum for Indigenous students in years 7 and 8, which will hopefully increase the digital skill set of 4,000 Indigenous students by 2018.

FIRST Robotics Australia regional director Luan Heimlich said the plan will be focused on doubling the current number of students involved in its FIRST Lego League and FIRST Robotics program. This will involve adding 150 new schools and reaching more than 1,500 students between kindergarten and year 12 among the low-SES and regional Indigenous students, as well as in other underrepresented groups.

"The whole goal is to help them stay engaged. Kids who take part in this program are 10 times more likely to take up STEM education when they get to university. Once they get to university, they can come back and mentor the younger kids," she said.

"We feel like we can make the biggest impact when they're younger, and give them something to do so we don't lose them."

Engineers Without Borders Australia CEO Lizzie Brown said they will use the grant to expand its Regioneering Roadshow to engage with 6,500 students, as well as parents and teachers with hands-on STEM training.

"STEM and computer science careers are exceptionally diverse and very specialised, so for school teachers to be across that and inspire that diversity is quite difficult. Engineering and science professions have the opportunity to engage a lot more with schools and inspire students. Just importantly, if not more importantly, work with teachers to build their confidence in working with students around more STEM and computer science," she said.

The grants are part of a AU$6.2 million investment over the last 12 months by Google for the company's initiative to work with not-for-profit organisations.