20 years with NYSF!

Sandra Meek is the NYSF Manager of Operations and is celebrating 20 years with the organisation this year.

What was your first role and how has that changed?

My first experience of with the NYSF was in 1989 where I was employed in a casual position to send letters to students heading off on international programs. But in 1995, when I was living in Papua New Guinea with my young family, I kept getting calls every month asking when I would be returning to Canberra to help organise the NYSF as the office was busy planning the Physics Olympiad here in Canberra. By September 1995, I was employed full-time. We arrived back in the country and within two weeks, I found a house to live in and childcare for my sons and began working four days a week. My first role was as the assistant to the then office manager – Ada Meek – my mother-in-law. You could say the NYSF was already in my blood.

With Geoff Burchfield receiving the Paul Harris Fellow Award from Rotary.

With Geoff Burchfield receiving the Paul Harris Fellow Award from Rotary.

Over the years my role changed and I became more involved with organising the suite of programs the NYSF offers to students and alumni, and ultimately managing all of the logistics.  When Ada Meek retired, I became the office manager.

As you can imagine, business processes over the years have changed dramatically, as has my role with the student staff. I am now more involved with supporting student staff leaders who run the January forum for NYSF students. I am also a keen photographer so I am kept busy capturing the students’ enjoyment as they attend lectures and labs, learning new skills and concepts they hadn’t yet considered, and of course forming life-long friendships with students who love science as much as they do.

What have been some of the highlights? 

One of the biggest highlights would have to be seeing the difference the NYSF program has on students from their first day to the final day.  The growth and knowledge (those light-bulb moments) gained by the students is truly remarkable. Working with the student staff each year and watching them mature into great leaders and role models is a very rewarding part of my job.

On session with Catherine Wheller Student Staff Leader and 2008 Alumna

On session with Catherine Wheller Student Staff Leader and 2008 Alumna

I have had the opportunity to accompany students who have been selected for international programs, and attend Next Step programs with students to partner organisations.

In 2013, I was proud to receive the Paul Harris Fellow Award from Rotary. The award gave me great pleasure in knowing that the service I have provided to the NYSF over the past 20 years has been recognised.

Although organising travel for every student every year is a challenge, it is very rewarding.  I have learned about towns I had never heard of before and people are surprised when I can say, “Yes, I know where that is”.

I must say a huge thank you to my family for putting up with me not being home each January and sometimes in the middle of the year while I travel with the NYSFers on international programs. The contribution to the program comes from us all.

Student staff leaders welcome January 2016 cohort

Brett Slarks (Session A) and Meg Trinder-McCartney (Session C) 2016 are the senior student staff leaders for the NYSF 2016 program.

Brett attended the NYSF as a student in 2011 and he says that this experience changed his life. In the months leading up to the NYSF, he had some idea of what to expect, however, nothing could have prepared him for the journey he was about to embark on.

“Making friends at the NYSF was incredibly easy because I have never been amongst such a large group of like-minded people.”

“Over the two-week program, through seminars, workshops, lab visits and guest presentations, the NYSF assisted me in understanding the many career pathways available in the fields of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and how to form my own pathway – and of course, the skills involved in science communication.”

“Making friends at the NYSF was incredibly easy because I have never been amongst such a large group of like-minded people.”

Brett Slarks Student Staff Leader Session A

Brett Slarks Student Staff Leader Session A

Throughout high school, Brett had been quite confident that he wanted to study medicine at university. He recalls, “However, through my attendance at the NYSF, I became quite confused about what I wanted to study and this was the best possible outcome I could have asked for. I hadn’t yet explored other avenues available through tertiary education. The NYSF opened my eyes to the many career paths available in STEM and so I completed work experience in those fields that interested me.”

Not only had Brett’s options and career choices been broadened but so was his choice of where he could further his education beyond high school and his home state of South Australia. “Coming from a rural background, my knowledge of universities outside South Australia was limited at best. The NYSF and their partners made me aware of all of the possible opportunities across the country.”

Although Brett has come full circle, he chose to follow his passion. “I am now studying a Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) at The University of Adelaide knowing that there is no other course in STEM that interests me more. Studying medicine is very satisfying as I’m sure my career in this field will be too.”

“I have acquired countless new skills through my experience as a Student Staff member for the NYSF; no matter how much you give back to the NYSF, you always receive far more.”

Brett’s advice for the 2016 cohort: “To the students beginning their journey with the NYSF in January 2016, congratulations on making it through to one of the largest STEM networks in Australia.”

“To those attending Session A or C – be prepared for what you expect least. Being nervous in the lead up to Session is normal. I was petrified of the unknown, but I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the NYSF as a student.”

“I implore you take advantage of this unique opportunity because the program will go very quickly. (Post-NYSF Depression [PND] should nearly be listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders [DSM-5] because it’s nearly a real condition).”

Meg attended the NYSF as a student in 2012, which she says was an unexpected turning point in her life in many ways. The experience she had over those two weeks has however influenced her life to this day.

Meg Trinder-McCartney Student Staff Leader Session C

Meg Trinder-McCartney Student Staff Leader Session C

in the lead up to attending the NYSF I was incredibly nervous. However, in hindsight there was no need to be

“Over the course of those two weeks I was able to learn from, converse with and be inspired by a diverse range of professionals in science, engineering and beyond, each of whom had carved a unique career path for themselves. Not only was I able to draw from the wealth of career advice they shared with us, but perhaps more significantly, I realised that it was possible for me to create my own path too.”

After attending the NYSF as a student, Meg had the opportunity to return as a staff member, an experience she is incredibly grateful for. “As staff members, we are given a huge amount of responsibility, but we are also fully supported in learning how to rise to this challenge. For me, this has led to phenomenal personal and professional growth, because I am constantly developing my skills in organisation, communication, leadership and managing group dynamics.” Meg found that these skills translated into other areas of her life, and have increased her capacity to take on opportunities life throws her way.

“To all the students who will be joining us in January, I congratulate and warmly welcome you. I recall that in the lead up to attending the NYSF as a student I was incredibly nervous. However, in hindsight there was no need to be – an unbelievable amount of fun, excitement, growth and inspiration awaits you in the January sessions, I feel very, very fortunate to be able to share this with you all.”