Cows, chips and calcium as kids explore agri-tech careers

26 May 2021

CQUniversity's Agri-tech Education and Extension researchers are inspiring a new generation to get passionate about agriculture' with a fun schools program highlighting STEM careers in primary production.

The RACE – Gippsland project has visited primary and secondary schools across the Victorian region this month' connecting hundreds of students with new ideas about the science and technology behind food production.

At Newborough Primary School on Thursday 20 May' Senior Research Officer Dr Nicole McDonald and PhD student Molly O'Dea led hands-on activities that challenged students to think differently about how we grow and use food.

The engaging activities included students:

  • Using accelerometers whilst imitating key behaviours of cows' as other students tracked their different movement patterns via data livestreamed onto a iPad'
  • Comparing different potato varieties' cutting chips' and assessing which type generate the least waste' and are most delicious'
  • Measuring sugar' solids and calcium content comparing cows milk to alternatives such as soy' almond and oat.

Students had a ball energetically mimicking activities of cows' including stimulating a predator attack' as young data analysts interpreted the accelerometer monitoring.

And becoming "food scientists" got participants thinking differently about how food is prepared and packaged' and how to explore healthiest options.

RACE – Gippsland launched in late 2020 and will run until mid-2023. The project is a CQUniversity collaboration with the Gippsland Local Learning and Employment Networks (LLENs)' GippsDairy' VegeNet project' and TAFE Gippsland funded by the Victorian Department of Education and Training.

Project lead Dr Amy Cosby' who is also a dairy farmer in Gippsland' said the project includes a variety of activities including the facilitation of industry school partnerships' professional development for teachers' online learning modules' an Agri-tech Experience Roadshow and a Food and Fibre Social Entrepreneurship program."There's a perception that country kids have a better understanding of agriculture just because of the region they live in' but our research shows that's not always the case'" Dr Cosby said.

"Connecting rural students with primary producers' and also with the STEM innovations in the industry' means the next generation can become passionate about how their food is produced and where it comes from.

"Even more importantly' as the Gippsland region transitions from traditional economic reliance on energy generation and the forestry industry' the diverse career opportunities available in the agricultural industry in their local region will become crucial to young people."

In December last year' Dr Cosby and her team ran a series of webinars to engage with schools and community members' to ensure the project would meet the needs of Gippsland students.

"There's been great interest in the opportunities RACE - Gippsland offers local school and agricultural businesses' and it's been exciting to see the enthusiasm of these key stakeholders to get involved'"

she said.

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