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Sophie Miller (2nd left, and Gaylene Hughes (right)

IYM Alumna puts inspiration to good use

Inspiration, initiative and hard work resulted in Samuel Marsden Whitby’s first ever STEM day (science, technology, engineering, maths) for the whole school - the brainchild of year 13 student Sophie Miller.

Miller was inspired when she visited Harker School Research Symposium in Silicon Valley, California, with the 2019 Innovative Young Minds programme (IYM) in April this year.

When Miller came up with the idea of a STEM day and approached her teachers and the school Director, Anne Winnall, they enthusiastically supported her and even gave her a small budget to work with. She then got the year 13 students on board to help run the workshops.

The STEM day was for all 180 students and they moved around the workshops in their school houses, which meant students from year 7 to year 13 were working together.

The workshops, all designed by Miller, included engineering, IT, environmental science and virtual reality. In the engineering workshop the students worked in groups of 4 or 5. They were given 100 popsicle sticks and 2 metres of masking tape. They had to build a structure and were given points for aesthetics, originality and strength.

Samuel Marsden is a well-being school. In keeping with that theme, in the IT workshop, students used TinkerCad to design something that represented well-being to them. The best four designs would be 3D printed.

The VR workshop was facilitated by Victoria University of Wellington, but Miller knew that only one game could be played at a time, so she used some of her budget to purchase Google Cardboard VR goggles. While students waited to use the sophisticated equipment, they could have fun with VR using their own phone, an app called Cardboard by Google and the cardboard goggles.

The environmental workshop saw students in their gumboots scooping out water from the stream that runs through the school grounds and examining it for life forms. The different animal life found identified the health of the stream. This is significant for the school since they have become the Kaitaki (guardian) of the stream and spent a lot of time cleaning it up. Sixteen endangered Longfin Eel can now be found here. What’s more exciting is that the project is led by the year 7 students!

Miller also organised a fantastic line-up of speakers. Mette Hoé (sustainable transport), Dr Diana Siwiak (VUW Technology department), Dr Sigrun Hreinsdottir (Geodetic Scientist), Dr Wanda Strattford (Marine Geologist) and Katie Jacobs (Seismology Project Scientist). When Miller was asked how she secured such an impressive line-up of speakers, she said, “I met some of them at the Women in Tech breakfasts. Networking is awesome!”

We are excited to see our IYM alumnae using their experiences to impact others. If you want to know more about the programme visit

Construction workshop
Sophie with Felix Nichols, working on Brainbox
Google Cardboard VR


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