The Student Challenge program at Earthwatch seeks to improve school science participation numbers and ultimately university science numbers. The program provides secondary students, who already have an interest in science and environment, with experience in the field working alongside qualified scientists on genuine research projects.
The Student Challenge Program is aimed at students in years 10 and 11 as they prepare to make important decisions about their future school subjects and university preferences. The hands-on, experiential field work program, in which students work with leading researchers, aims to inspire students who have an interest in science and environment to continue on to study and career pathways in the sector. Teachers are encouraged to refer students who appear to have a genuine interest in science and environmental studies but who might be at risk of discontinuing the subjects at senior school.
The George Alexander Foundation funds cover the travel and program costs for students who are chosen to participate by Earthwatch.
The GAF Student Challenge Program allows 30 students annually to participate in one of three major ongoing research programs:
1. Underwater Landscapes of Queensland's Islands – Queensland
2. Melbourne's Microbats – Victoria
3. Turtles on the Move – Victoria
The Foundation has supported 228 students to participate in the program since 2011, and is committed to providing ongoing support to 2020 with commitments totalling $300,000 over three years (2018–2020).
"All in all it was an amazing experience that has helped us both to decide our careers in Environmental Science. If we had not been sponsored we never could have made the trip... we hope that other young environmentalists are given the chance to attend."
The program meets strongly with the Foundation's objectives (in both the Education and inactive Environment programs) by allowing young people from across Australia to participate in real-world environmental science and conservation, and at the same time assist researchers in their work.
From the researchers' point of view, the students work with data collection is of great assistance, allowing researchers to gather many weeks’ worth of information in just a few days.
Application forms are available from Earthwatch.