From Boort to Monash: science in the city

Reporter: Angus Verley

It can be tough for science students and staff in the bush, where subjects and facilities are often limited.

That’s why, since 2011, the John Monash Science School has been operating a regional exchange program, taking them out of the country and giving them a fresh taste of science.

It’s a long way from Boort to Monash…but these students say it’s worth the effort.

This story is part of a summer podcast series produced by journalism students from RMIT University. Read more about the project.


ANGUS VERLEY: I’m in the small farming community of Boort, in north-west Victoria, population 773. Sian Mackley is a biology teacher here and she went on exchange to John Monash last year.

SIAN MACKLEY: We just don’t have the facilities, we don’t have the resources, we don’t have the funding, so we need that exchange program. They’re set up for many, many exciting genetic practicals which are very difficult to operate here.

ANGUS VERLEY: Sian’s love for science is something the school looks for in its regional exchange applicants.

SIAN MACKLEY: All they want from the student is that love of science, that desire to know more, to be curious, to find out, to discover.

ANGUS VERLEY: It’s a long way from Boort to John Monash, on the grounds of Monash University in Clayton. Lisa Horsley is in charge of the exchange program, where people replace the slow pace of the country with the bustle of the city.

LISA HORSLEY: It’s to bring kids into a really supportive environment for science, so they’re surrounded by 600 students who all really love science and they might not necessarily get that at their own schools. We’re saying, come for three weeks, get really excited about it, and take that passion back to your school.

ANGUS VERLEY: Regional staff too face challenges.

LISA HORSLEY: I know it can be really hard in regional areas where you’ve got maybe a biology teacher, but they’re teaching the chemistry and the physics as well, so to be able to support them is really important for us as well.

ANGUS VERLEY: In the future the exchange program may move into the virtual sphere.

LISA HORSLEY: We’re also looking at other ways that we can teach our subjects to students in their own schools, so we’re looking at using video conferencing or online delivery so that students can stay in the schools where they are but still have access to the resources that we’ve got.

ANGUS VERLEY: Back in Boort I caught up with Hannah Moresi, who went on exchange earlier this year.

HANNAH MORESI: I thought well, I’m not really sure how I feel about science, so I thought they’ve got heaps of subjects so I thought I could go and have a go and see how it was. I think it’s a really good opportunity, especially if you’re not sure about science. And it’s not just for the science experience; it’s good to go to Melbourne for three weeks and experience going to that school.

ANGUS VERLEY: For Hannah, this meant exploring the city with her host family. Their roles were reversed over the winter holidays when the family visited Boort.

HANNAH MORESI: They actually came down to Boort and stayed with us for three days I think it was. We got to show them around Boort, how the country people live, and they got to experience things that we do. It was really fun.

ANGUS VERLEY: Year 11 student Steph Couper has been busy chasing her dream after returning from the school last year.

STEPH COUPER: I wanted to be a marine biologist before I went there and then yeah, once I got there and learnt a lot more I decided I would be more interested in medicine.

ANGUS VERLEY: Steph was able to bring her new knowledge back to Boort and share it with junior classes.

STEPH COUPER: Part of the program was to come back and teach our school a little bit more about science and what I had learnt so I attended a couple of classes and taught them a little bit about the immune system and how it works.

ANGUS VERLEY: Steph has no regrets about participating in the program that drastically altered her career direction.

STEPH COUPER: I was worried about going but yeah; it really paid off in the end. It was just the best experience ever and I’m really glad I did it. It changed my life.

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