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19 October 2016

PMs prize of excellence for Kent Street teacher

Kent Street Senior High School teacher and geoscientist, Suzy Urbaniak, has taken out an award of the highest honour – 2016 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science.

When Ms Urbaniak began teaching – 30 years after finishing school – she realised there needed to be a stronger connection between the classroom and what was happening in the real world. As an experienced geoscientist, she decided her classes needed to be out in the field.

She created the CoRE (Centre of Resource Excellence program) at Kent Street Senior High School to give students practical, hands-on experiences so they could get jobs in the resources, environmental sustainability and earth sciences fields.

“I decided then that I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to turn the classroom into a room full of young scientists rather than students learning from textbooks,” Ms Urbaniak says.

“It makes my day when my students walk into my classroom and tell me it doesn’t feel like they’re in school—it feels like they’re coming to work.”

Over the past 10 years, Ms Urbaniak has run 45 field trips throughout Australia and internationally – she calls this learning in the #realclassroom.

She says travel abroad is all part of the learning journey.

“Fieldwork is a key part of learning as students gain a wealth of experience by putting their skills to practical use,” she says.

“Students essentially become real-world scientists, observing and analysing data to evaluate their environment.”

An industry geologist for 12 years, followed by a further 12 years in the classroom, Ms Urbaniak drew on her own professional experiences to develop the program.

“CoRE was created to encourage a wide range of students to find science and engineering fun again,” she says.

“They use their problem solving skills to turn a situation into a solution by dealing with issues related to resources and economics, particularly within the Asia-Pacific Region.

“They work as a team to critically think and evaluate problems, ensuring all tasks are organised, challenged and addressed by the best team members for each task.

“Coding literacy is now a major player in today’s classrooms so technological skills are vital.”

CoRE directly links students with key industry leaders from major corporations such as Chevron, Iluka Resources, Sandfire Resources and associates including the Australian Institute of Geoscientists, Australian Geoscience Council and Women in Mining WA.

“The results of CoRE speak volumes,” say Ms Urbaniak.

“Last summer, all of my students obtained either vacation work or jobs in areas they were made aware of during their CoRE education.” 

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