Growing green thumbs in schools

Do you know a plant health champion in your community? Australia’s capital has a dedicated volunteer in Carol Quashie-Williams who inspires local students to get grubby in the garden through the STEM Professionals in Schools program.

Carol invests her experience in agricultural and environmental science and entomology into schools. For the last 15 years, she has helped to establish vegetable gardens, grow produce for their canteens, and encourage sustainable activities as part of the STEM Professionals in Schools program.

“I love the enthusiasm of the children and being hands on with agriculture,” Carol said of her volunteering role.

“This is my ‘field’ work where I keep up to date with diagnostic skills and non-chemical pest management measures.

“It complements my work in plant biosecurity at the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, and allows me to be familiar with pest groups that infest agricultural products like seeds, plants, flowers and fruit and vegetables.”

 Carol helps her students to raise silkworms as part of her education on plant health

Carol helps her students to raise silkworms as part of her education on plant health

She brings her plant health expertise to schools, judging science fair presentations and giving talks to primary, secondary and university students, including a national youth science forum. Her trick to engaging students is to make it accessible and fun.

“One primary school submits their vegetables in our local agricultural show and has won best junior gardener for the last four years running. It becomes tangible and rewarding for them.

“Once, while stewing peaches, we found maggots in some of the fruit. So we turned it into a science experiment to grow out the maggots and we identified the fruit fly species,” Carol said.

Her current projects are to develop a card game using images of national priority plant pests, and a gardening guide for ACT schools that identifies local pests and diseases.

Her commitment to community service in schools has not gone un-noticed. She won 2019 Volunteer of the Year at the ACT Public Education Awards – recognising those who strive to make a difference in students’ lives.

Imagine a Carol in every community!

Author: Monique Mahoney

 Carol with the 23 kilo pumpkin she helped the kids of Mawson Primary Schools to grow and enter into the local agricultural show

Carol with the 23 kilo pumpkin she helped the kids of Mawson Primary Schools to grow and enter into the local agricultural show