Enterprising effort rewarded with ministerial pitch

Vanessa Lahey meets a Rivers Secondary College team that has ‘solved’ a COVID-19 conundrum as part of a national ‘all-girl’ STEM challenge.

28 October 2021
Two girls wearing masks sitting in front of a laptop
Image: Reliable information: Linh Le Do and Ava Maddock prepare for their pitch.

Here’s a question for you: How might we increase the uptake of vaccinations against COVID-19 in Australia?

As we know there is no easy answer, but two female students at the Rivers Secondary College in northern NSW attempted to address the issue as part of a national contest organised by the Academy for Enterprising Girls.

The entrepreneurial skills of Ava Maddock and Linh Le Do were recognised in the contest when they secured a spot to pitch their solution directly to the Minister for Women’s Economic Security, Senator Jane Hume.

Year 10 students Ava and Linh are part of the Rivers Secondary College Academy of STEM Excellence program. The program has links with not-for-profit organisation, the Young Change Agents, which helps youth see problems as opportunities through social entrepreneurship.

The organisation partners with schools to help teachers introduce and embed entrepreneurial and design thinking into a student’s learning experience.

Ava and Linh’s vaccination plan VaccineGo was up against a VaxiVan (to help vaccinate homeless people), a Vaxx Paxx (mail order COVID-19 information package), and a hypothetical web forum, COVID Curious, for information sharing.

The Rivers Secondary College pair’s pitch was a COVID-19 fact-based website where people could find information about the safety and risks associated with the COVID-19 vaccine. It would include frequently asked questions about vaccination and contact details for local vaccination clinics.

Accompanying the website was an app, featuring an interactive game that challenged participants to work in groups and re-trace their contact history to identify “patient zero” as a way to show how quickly COVD-19 spreads and how difficult contact tracing is.

When asked during the pitch what outcome they envisioned for their project, Ava and Linh said they wanted their website, app, and game to provide “unbiased and reliable” information on COVID-19.

They felt as a non-government site it had higher potential to persuade people reluctant to be vaccinated.

“Our team wanted people to become aware of the surrounding news regarding COVID-19 infections and regulations and understand the features of the vaccine and how it affects our body,” the girls said.

The associated game was designed to increase the likelihood of people getting vaccinated.

“We hoped that people could learn about vaccinations in a fun and educational way as well as learn new and valuable information about the virus,” Ava and Linh said.


Gender divide

STEM-based jobs make up 75% of the fastest-growing occupations and higher-paying jobs but in Australia only 17% of people working in STEM-skilled professions are women. (Source: enterprisinggirls.com.au)

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