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Girls in STEM

The City LLEN team recognised that many girls attending our schools, particularly girls from low SES (socioeconomic status), refugee or asylum seeker backgrounds, aspired to pursue a STEM career but faced many barriers. We were also aware of the need to encourage more girls into STEM to:

  • Raise the diversity of the sector so it can benefit from the input from women

  • Challenge the perception that girls and women are not capable of doing well in maths and other science subjects or professions

  • Enable more girls/women to obtain a rewarding, well-paid career that can make a great contribution to society

It is also important that more women enter STEM careers so engineering, medicine and infrastructure reflect the needs of women and include their experience as, historically, the default position has been seen as male and this has meant data from women has not been collected, included or utilised in a wide variety of situations.

For example, until relatively recently the treatment of heart disease in women reflected the average results for tests and research conducted on men (and ignores hormonal differences between men and women), and the heights of built-in change tables in older maternity hospitals and the hanging straps used on public transport are too high for the average women because they are based on the average height of men.

We need more women in STEM.

The barriers to participation in STEM identified by students and other experts included financial barriers, lack of support, lack of knowledge about the who, the how, the what and why, as well as the lack of role models.

To support and encourage girls to study STEM, the LLEN developed a new relationship with Engineers Australia that led to a new partnership to support an event that was delivered at Engineers Australia in October. This highly successful event attracted over 130 people including students, parents and teachers. The LLEN team brought together a range of guest speakers and designed the evening to provide an interesting and enjoyable, as well as an applied learning, experience for the students.

The emcee for the evening was Luke Dennehy, Luke has been a Herald Sun journalist, 3AW disc jockey and various television programs. We then kicked off the evening with fan and enlightening short talk from panel members followed by an entertaining Q and A session, panel members were:

  • Anh Pham, Civil Engineer, National Representative and Congress Delegate for Women in Engineering. Anh also volunteers for Engineers without Borders and has been working as an engineer for over 8 years. Her experience includes working for multi-billiondollar government infrastructure projects like the Regional Rail Link as well as completing projects for Toyota and the corporate sector.

  • Vanessa Smith, IT programs, Telstra. Vanessa grew up in outback Queensland and came to STEM and more specifically – information technology via an indirect route. She didn’t go straight from high school to university but worked in a range of roles before realising she wanted more and wanted to use her brain and skills in different ways. Vanessa joined the Telstra Graduate program and has worked for IBM in senior roles and is passionate about solving problems using emerging technology to meet gaps in the market.

  • Loveleen Kaur, Biologicals Manager, Australian Laboratory Services. Loveleen began her STEM career as a Research Associate for the University of Westminster in England, she then moved to Australia working in various roles as Molecular Biochemist achieving management roles that have made significant contributions to major developments in medical technology.

Questions from the audience included fearless and frank discussions lead by the mothers of the students on; gender pay equity for women, career pathways and how to get ahead in a male dominated industry, how to manage challenging situations in the work place among others. Following the panel and Q and A students heard from:

  • Marialena Machenetzi, Master of Science in Bioinformatics at Melbourne University and out-going Vice President of Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) spoke to the students and parents about the various pathways into STEM available to students

  • Harry King, CAE Jobs and Skills Centre spoke about the range of careers and pathways open to STEM students, including the growing need for people to work in IT security and how you can go from a TAFE certificate qualification to a diploma and then into a degree and exit at any stage. Harry also explained the services available to students at Jobs and Skills Centres

The event then broke up into 2 groups, the parents remained in the main ‘theatre’ space and the students who had selected one of 3 STEM activities groups went to participate in those before all attendees re-convened for the wrap up. The students had a choice of participating in:

  • RoboGals – Is an international student-run organisation that aims to increase female participation in engineering, science and technology through fun and educational initiatives aimed at girls in primary and secondary school. The team of 8 university students took the girls through the basics of engineering, robotics and programming using LEGO. The session was designed to encourage logical thinking, problem solving and preparation and exposure to programming languages in a fun, applied learning experience culminating in the creation of a LEGO robot. The girls enjoyed this session so much they didn’t want to leave.

  • In2Science – An innovative and awardwinning program designed to increase student engagement in STEM, the program places university science students in primary and secondary schools to help younger students learn and get excited about STEM. The team from La Trobe University took the girls through a range of activities and discussions to promote their enjoyment of STEM.

  • WISE (Women in Engineering, Melbourne University) – The aims of the WISE program are to provide women studying STEM a fun and supportive community, to improve gender equity in STEM and promote these values to the wider community including younger female students in secondary school. The WISE women ran in interactive discussion and a more in-depth question and answer session for the students to explore everything they wanted to know.

Whilst the students were participating in the applied learning sessions, the parents listened to several more speakers:

  • Sid Verma, BrainSTEM – Sid is an entrepreneur, who after attending the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair realised the potential of matching real-world scientists with their passion and experience for science and engineering with budding students resulting in him creating BrainSTEM which helps secondary students bring their science and innovative ideas to life. Sid spoke to the parents about careers in science, tips and tricks for studying as well as managing a career, statistics for employment and STEM labour market trends, networking and lots of other useful information.

  • In2Science – A government funded La Trobe University program to encourage STEM, speakers spoke in detail about the variation and interesting roles and careers available under the STEM umbrella.


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