SVSR & Penola partner in CSIRO Stem Professionals in Schools program

The CSIRO STEM Professionals in Schools program facilitates partnerships between schools and industry to bring real-world STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) into the classroom. It aims to motivate teachers and students, broaden STEM awareness and build crucial career skills, including critical thinking and communication.

SVSR was delighted to take part once more this year, with Duncan Reynolds, our Research & Development Manager, working with P-TECH Leader and teacher Lee Sullivan and Year 9 students from Penola Catholic College in Emu Plains.

SVSR integrates R&D into the design and fabrication of our sewer vents, vent cowls and odour filters for innovative and best-practice customer solutions.

Duncan’s mentorship helped the Penola Catholic College project – which involved the design of an innovative bus stop for Western Sydney – navigate specific issues including heat mitigation and rainwater runoff.

Children with computer at school

Penola and P-TECH

Penola Catholic College is the only catholic school to be classified a Pathways in Technology (P-TECH) school, with a syllabus that aims to accelerate STEM learning and provide practical tools for students to enter the job market.

“Initially we received a grant to attack the problem of skills shortage,” explains Lee. “We really wanted our kids in Years 10, 11 and 12 to be doing things that directly helped them get to where they wanted to be in their careers. We had a trade training centre, encouraged VET courses and we worked with industry partners. Through that, it morphed into a P-TECH school, which is part of a global program. There are 16 official P-TECH schools in the country and five in NSW.”

P-TECH matches students with industry mentors to tackle real-world problems and build crucial skills, including problem-solving. “We come up with a potential project, we work with industry partners – including University of Western Sydney (UWS) and Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) – and we present our solution to our partners for feedback,” says Lee.

To broaden their reach, Lee and the school decided to reach out this year to the CSIRO STEM Professionals in Schools program.

Man checking the sewer vents


SVSR first joined the CSIRO STEM Community Partnerships Program (STEM CPP) in 2019. In our initial project, we partnered with Year 9 students from Lurnea High School, who modelled vertical farming structures as a potential solution for urban food shortages.

Duncan acted as a mentor for both the Lurnea and Penola projects. While he has extensive expertise across sewer ventilation for Sydney Water and regional councils, Duncan also has broad skills working in areas including sustainability, circular economy, E-waste and manufacturing.

In addition, he has collaborated with research teams within the University of New South Wales, including the Faculty of Engineering’s Water Research team, the Graphene and Materials Science and Particles and Catalysis teams, and the Odour Unit. He is also leading SVSR’s research and development project into more sustainable odour control.

Duncan worked directly with Lee and the Penola students, with support from CSIRO’s Shane Hengst, Generation STEM Project Officer, and Kirsty O’Sullivan, Generation STEM Team Leader.

An innovation for Penrith City Council

As part of the program, the CSIRO provides suggested problems to tackle. Lee and the students targeted heat mitigation and transport issues brought forward by Penrith City Council and aligning with the council’s participation in a project called Climate Adapted People Shelters (CAPS).

From an initial question of how to encourage members of the Penrith Community to regularly use public transport, the project expanded into diverse topics.

“We first brainstormed why public transport was important. The kids did surveys to find out why people weren’t using public transport – ‘It’s hot and uncomfortable’ – and after a lot of discussion covering everything from heat reflective paint to north-facing structures to salvaging rainwater runoff, they began designing their bus shelters using CAD.

We also started to look at robotics with the intention of creating a ‘driverless bus’ connected to the shelters but didn’t focus on that in the end due to the size of the project and the COVID impact. We did however use 3D modelling software to make virtual images of the shelters which you can overlay on sites using your phone, and some of the students then went off to different sites to see how their designs would look in situ.

The students worked in groups of three to refine their designs, which we have now presented to various industry audiences and at a STEM conference in November.”

Woman on a bus stop

Duncan’s mentorship

Duncan’s role throughout the project was to provide feedback and suggestions on practical development.

“Initially, I spoke to my kids and they came up with 100 questions for Duncan which we narrowed down to 20 on topics including the heat mitigation properties of certain materials,” says Lee.

“Duncan was able to point out real-world problems like water excess and graffiti. He provided information on eco panels and anti-graffiti paint. I thought the kids might be put off, but they responded really well to that and adapted their designs with that in mind.”

Whilst the Sydney lockdown meant face to face interaction and a planned visit to view SVSR’s CAD facilities couldn’t happen, the overall experience was positive.

“The process was good, and dependent of course on the CSIRO direction and project nature, we would certainly work with SVSR again.”

Young boy studying using laptop

Real issues; real solutions

For Lee, STEM programs such as the CSIRO one are vital for his students. The benefit is not just about gaining technical skills, but about learning how to apply those skills to any career.

“The syllabus requires us to teach CAD for instance, which in a traditional classroom would involve learning how to operate the software,” explains Lee. “By itself, that’s not going to solve anything. What we do is help our students by looking at problems and equipping them with skills such as teamwork, collaboration and adaptability.

As an analogy, we don’t teach our kids how to drive a Subaru,” he adds. “We teach them how to drive, so they can drive anything. Instead of giving them the answer, we look at a problem with them, and we teach them how to think to solve that problem.”

The SVSR team was very happy to work with Penola and we look forward to taking part in future STEM programs. We’re a leader in sewer vent shaft solutions, thanks to continued innovation. To discuss your next project, please contact us.

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