Revolutionary program inspires students to reach for the stars

Revolutionary program inspires students to reach for the stars

Four years ago, Sydney-based Seb Chaoui and his friend, Solange Cunin, were doing an internship at space tech business Saber Astronautics when they had an idea:

What would it take to give school students hands-on access to a space program?

Specifically, the plan involved supporting students to design and code experiments that can be tested in space with the help of NASA astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS).

Two years later, that vision became reality when Cunin co-founded Cuberider.

In December 2016, Cuberider took a major leap forward by sending Australia’s first payload to the ISS.

On board was not the work of lead scientists and engineers, but over 100 experiments created by over 1,000 high school students from 60 schools across Australia.

Cunin, 23, – a UNSW aerospace engineering student – said the name was partially inspired by the cube shape of the payload.

“The story behind the company's name is that the formation of the original payload was going to be a cube [it is now more of an oblong shape], and everyone 'rides' to space together,” Cunin told The Educator.

Today, the start-up is continuing to reshape classrooms in hundreds of schools throughout Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and the US.

Here’s how it works.

Students log in to Cuberider’s online learning material 'Launchpad', which was written by leading engineers and astrophysicists. The experiments are then sent to the ISS to be tested and data recorded, the results of which are then analysed back in the classroom.

Cunin said that growing up in the country made her passionate about bridging the regional divide and giving all students access to this program and the possibilities it can provide.

“Most of the onboarding and communicating with teachers is done by phone, email or video call. This means that everyone, no matter where they’re located in Australia, has the same access,” she explained.

Cunin said that in the first year that Cuberider launched, some teachers were getting worried because students were skipping their other classes to join the Cuberider projects. In other cases, schools found that their STEM electives have tripled in number since running their program.

“When we go out and talk to schools that have used our program, we often see an increase in students who can see themselves in  STEM career, or see the relevance of STEM to the career they want,” she said.

“I think this is important because not everyone might go on to work in STEM, but it’s going to play a role in their career.”

To get involved, teachers get in touch with the company, which will then decide whether they’re a good fit for the program and if they’ll get the outcomes they are seeking.

Cunin said the company is looking to grow its reach and our impact.

“We want to expand not just because we’ve heard amazing feedback from students but because we know it’s worthwhile for all students in Australia to be doing this,” she said.

“We’re also trying to make the program more accessible to teachers from all backgrounds.”

Cunin said most teachers aren’t trained in technology or coding so giving them as much support as possible will allow them to be more confident in using the available tools to deliver the best outcomes for students.