Growing concerns regarding workforce needs in Australia’s technology-driven economic future has set Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education at the forefront of educational initiatives in both school and tertiary sectors. At the same time, universities are under increasing pressure to deliver work ready and employable graduates, seeking new ways to embed graduate capabilities into their curricular and extra-curricular activities. University-based outreach and peer-learning support programs address the STEM agenda by involving tertiary students in community engagement. Such programs provide opportunities for university students to gain valuable work experience outside of the curriculum. The Extreme Science school outreach program and the STIMulate peer-learning support program for undergraduate students are two initiatives operating at the Queensland University of Technology that address retention and achievement in STEM subjects and courses at pre-tertiary and tertiary level. The Extreme Science Program is a Federally-funded program that employs university student ambassadors to build aspiration for tertiary studies and future careers in STEM for school students from low-income backgrounds. The STIMulate program uses student volunteers as peer learning facilitators to provide learning support to university students in STEM fields. Student participants in both programs were surveyed as part of program teaching and learning quality evaluation. These pilot surveys, conducted in 2013 and 2015, used an on-line survey tool to determine adequacy of training and ascertain impact of the role on graduate capabilities development, sense of belonging to QUT community and future employment outcomes. The surveys included five-point Likert Scale questions and open-ended responses. Analysis of survey results indicate that these programs support knowledge and skills relevant to their discipline area and enhance skills development in generic graduate attributes of communication, teamwork and leadership, and enhance work placement and career employability potential. This warrants further evidence-based research on these programs to investigate how participation enhances employability and life-long learning.
The two programs under study are extra-curricular, university-based initiatives that engage tertiary students in valuable work experiences. Both programs use a training framework including start and mid-year training session and peer mentoring by experienced. Training sessions incorporate modules from QUT’s “Leadership, Development & Innovation Program”, providing opportunities for personal and professional development of students, including core competencies aligned with QUT’s stated graduate capabilities. Both programs incorporate reward and recognition through participation certificates and potential for university leadership awards.Positive benefits for participants in these programs include development of generic graduate attributes such as communication, team work and leadership, all of which complement university studies. Enhanced work placement and career employability due to the professional experiences obtained through the programs has also been reported by participants, as well as increased confidence in public speaking and presentation skills through delivery of in-school workshops and peer mentoring. These community engagement programs have had measurable outcomes for their target audiences. However, the pilot surveys completed as part of both programs’ teaching and learning quality evaluation has indicated benefits to participating students in both programs. This warrants further evidence-based research to investigate how participation enhances employability and life-long learning.