Emergency Services Foundation Research Projects


WPI 2020 – Women’s perspectives on mental health and wellbeing


Webinar presented by WPI students Alexis Boyle, Elizabeth Inger, Krystina Waters and Manon Miller on 11 May 2020

In a unique working arrangement the ESF has partnered with Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) a private research university in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Founded in 1865 in Worcester, WPI was one of the United States’ first engineering and technology universities.  WPI is a world leader in project-based learning. Their data shows that the experience students have during their project work is life changing, and that it matters to employers.

Third year students are required to undertake an Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP).  From an educational perspective, the IQP serves to emphasize team-based work and introduces a real-world responsibility absent from courses. Many IQPs have made a significant impact on the community in which they are done.

IQPs are generally done off campus at one of WPIs 42 study centres around the world. COVID-19 travel restrictions meant this project was undertaken remotely which naturally presented some challenges.  Nevertheless, four STEM students from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (USA) Alexis Boyle, Elizabeth Inger, Krystina Waters and Mannon Miller have assisted the ESF to understand what women from across Victoria’s emergency management sector feel will best support their mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.

This investigation was driven by Beyond Blue’s Answering the Call research which found significantly higher rates of mental ill-health across the sector than in the general Australian population. In this study there was no in-depth qualitative analysis of women as a cohort group so it was fantastic to receive direct feedback from women in the emergency services sector about a number of organisational culture issues that can have a damaging impact upon wellbeing and help seeking behaviours. This work also addresses a recommendation of a study commissioned by Movember which suggested a gender lens was required to look at programs and support offered to women in the sector.

While this work has obvious limitations, it provides valuable insights for ESF and the agencies to improve women’s mental health and wellbeing sector wide.

Some key findings of the investigation were that women want line managers who are mental health literate, proactive and open to emotionally intelligent conversations about how women feel, and who acknowledge that women’s responsibilities outside the workplace can often be challenging. It seems many women are reluctant to seek support for fear of being stereotyped as ‘weak and emotional.’

A report of the investigation undertaken by the students is available here.

WPI 2019 – A close look at how the sector approaches transition to retirement

Four students from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) worked with the ESF for seven weeks in early 2019 as part of their assignment to their university’s Melbourne Project Centre (MPC). The MPC is one of over 40 international project centres established by WPI  as part of its  Global Projects Program.  Established in 1998, the MPC’s goal is to challenge small teams of engineering and science students to broaden the technical lens of their disciplinary training, and to account for the social, cultural and political factors of real-world problems within specific cultural contexts.  In undertaking projects sponsored by local organizations in and around Melbourne, WPI students learn to understand new cultures, apply and adapt their technical knowledge, manage complex projects, work with diverse partners, and innovate in ways that meet real community needs.

The purpose of this project was to assess the current landscape of retirement support and formulate recommendations for a holistic transition to retirement program for Victorian emergency service workers that provides a framework for the Emergency Services Foundation to drive best practice in cooperation with sector partners.

The students presented their findings on 29 May 2019 to the sector at an event hosted by Maddocks.

Project Recommendations Report Paper in PDF format

Project Presentation in Powerpoint format 

Previous Collegiate Projects

Emergency Services Foundation have sponsored senior students from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), Massachusetts, USA to undertake other projects in the following areas: