Little brother inspires big plans for ANU alumna

Who ‘does’ science?

That’s the question ANU alumna Sian Keys is posing, in an effort to prove ability is no barrier when it comes to science.

"My younger brother, Ehren, has Down syndrome,” explains Sian. “When I was studying science at ANU we’d often talk about what he wanted to do in the future, and he’d say that he wanted to study science at uni like me.­

“Even though there are so many great programs out there for people with disabilities, particularly in the arts, I thought it was sad that there wasn’t anything out there for him where he could do science. So I thought, I can do that!”

Equipped with a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Science Communication from ANU, Sian decided to apply for a National Science Week ‘Inspiring Australia’ grant and launched Scienceability, Australia’s first science program for people with intellectual disabilities.  

 “The workshops are all on different topics—ranging from the science of colour, air, flight, music, building and making, and liquids and fluids–and run by trained, volunteer science facilitators in the lead-up to National Science Week.

“The six workshops will culminate in the participants themselves running a science workshop for the general community.”

The workshops are all about challenging ideas of science and who science is for, and have been received incredibly well by the community.

“We’ve already done three workshops, and so far they’ve received great feedback. I had a carer say to me yesterday, ‘This is such a fantastic program, I don’t know why it didn’t exist before!’

“The volunteer facilitators have also told me that participating has been a fantastic way for them to learn a whole new set of skills, and made them see their job and the world differently, and that’s a whole outcome I never envisaged this program having,” explains Sian.

Sian credits the critical-thinking skills developed during her Bachelor degree and experience gained running workshops during her Master degree as key to Scienceability’s success.

“The courses I’ve done as part of my Masters gave me heaps of experience designing, running and evaluating workshops and shows.

“If I hadn’t done the Master of Science Communication and the Science Circus, there’s no way I would have been able to do this.”

So, three workshops in, how does Ehren rate them?

“He’s been my greatest advocate! He’s been in all the promotional photos for the workshops, and he’s just having a ball.”

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