ASPIRE receives $250,000 “surprise” from Google

The UNSW program that introduces thousands of disadvantaged school students to the world of university is celebrating after receiving a $250,000 “surprise” grant from Google.

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UNSW’s ASPIRE program, which has introduced thousands of disadvantaged school students to the world of university, has received a $250,000 “surprise” from Google.

The ASPIRE program was one of just 10 finalists in Google Impact Challenge Australia, a competition celebrating the transformative power of technology.

The four Challenge winners announced today received a $500,000 grant. Google surprised the other six finalists, including ASPIRE, with a grant of $250,000 each “to get their projects up and running”.

ASPIRE director, Dr Ann Jardine, said she was “absolutely thrilled” to receive the boost to the program after presenting her final pitch to a high-profile panel of judges including former NewsCorp Australia CEO Kim Williams, cricketer Glenn McGrath and Maile Carnegie, director of Google Australia and New Zealand, earlier today.

“We have been completely overwhelmed by the support we have received from UNSW and the wider community who have really got behind us in this challenge,” she said. “The money is a measure of the great work that ASPIRE does.”

Dr Jardine congratulated the four winners, Infoxchange, Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience, Engineers Without Borders Australia and the Fred Hollows Foundation, describing them as “truly inspirational”.

The Google-funded program – ASPIRE Hangout – will give young people access to engaging and interactive educational resources online, 24/7. The Hangout portal hosts video master classes, interactive workshops, online mentoring, tailored career planning tools and games targeted at challenging students’ expectations and perceptions about themselves and higher education.

“In a digital age, a young person’s potential shouldn’t be limited because of a lack of access to information or resources and opportunities taken for granted by others. Yet we know this is the case,” said Dr Jardine.

“For many students ASPIRE represents the first time they have had the opportunity to engage with a university. The ASPIRE Hangout will give us the opportunity to engage with more young people in innovative and interesting ways through a range of educational resources, and open their minds to a world of possibilities.”

The project, which will also feature a Career Pathways Planning app to help guide students through the complexities of applying to and starting university, will initially target some 3,500 students in Years 4–6 and 10–12 at ASPIRE partner schools across NSW.

ASPIRE Hangout aims to build on the program’s outreach successes to date, with over 20,000 students passing through ASPIRE’s workshops, on-campus taster days and residential programs since 2007.

University offers to students from ASPIRE partner schools have increased 28% since 2010.

The $250,000 grant is a major boost for ASPIRE, which is currently fundraising following the winding down of its federal government support.

Google has previously run the Impact Challenge in India, Brazil and the United States, with high-tech projects targeting wildlife conservation, solar energy, water and sanitation, early childhood literacy and domestic violence among past winners.

Watch the Google video of ASPIRE's work here