Future Learning Magazine Feb-Mar 2021

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FEB/MAR 2021

STEMinism For Future Thinking Teachers - Brought to you by STEM Punks®

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Word from Editor

Happy International Women’s Day! We’re celebrating all things Women In STEM this month, with over 30 women from across the globe interviewed to encourage more girls into STEM fields. There is a push for girls in STEM – a great deal of initiatives from government and private enterprise, research conducted, reports written, and funding dished out for engaging girls in STEM - but why? Around 90 per cent of future jobs will require some form of ICT skills and the fastest growing job categories are related to STEM. It should also be noted that approximately 75% of children entering primary school this year will end up working in jobs that haven’t even been created yet. Our pool of talent here in Australia is limited by the fact that women continue to be extremely underrepresented in STEM education and careers. The participation and retention of girls and women in STEM begin to wane from an early age and continue to decline rapidly throughout higher education, and even more so when moving into chosen careers. Teacher Sonia Stitt gives us insight via her research on page 4. Our world is rapidly changing, and the effect of having half of the population (women) not participating in STEM fields, is limited creativity and innovation. If half of the population aren’t contributing to the ‘best’ ideas, they’re not in fact the best ideas. At STEM Punks we believe it is imperative that we continue to support girls’ in this ongoing shift towards increased diversity and equity. We thank all the women interviewed who generously gave up their time – some at rather antisocial times in their countries – to inspire the next generation of innovators. We hope that you’re all celebrating IWD and will join us in encouraging more girls into STEM Fields. Fiona Holmstrom Editor & Publisher BFA (CW) MWEP fiona@stempunks.com.au


In this issue

03 G'Day USA 04 Girls in STEM research 06 Misconceptions around 10


Commander’s report: sol 13

13 Teacher tips for your classroom 16 Women in STEM Contributors Writing by Julie Scott at Julie Scott Writing Services Graphic designer Leticia Packer For advertising enquiries, contact hello@stempunks.com.au Have a STEM related story for Future Learning magazine? fiona@stempunks.com.au

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G’Day USA STEM Punks is thrilled to announce the appointment of our first US team member, Paula Noe, based in Austin, TX, who will be spearheading our expansion into North American schools. Texas-born lifelong educator, Paula Noe, M. Ed., is an experienced educator who has worked at the intersection of education and innovation for over twenty years. Paula is passionate about providing educators the resources and support designed to help them focus their energy on facilitating instruction and inspiring students. She has worked with educators at all levels in designing and implementing high quality STEM and Science Curriculum to meet the needs of all students. Paula has inspired and motivated educators throughout the country with her engaging leadership and presentation style as well as her knowledge of standards based instruction and best practices. Paula believes deeply in removing obstacles to student success and in creating equitable access to high quality STEM experiences that will empower and equip the next generation of problem solvers and leaders. She is passionate about being a difference maker in STEM. Welcome to STEM Punks, Paula. For any US school enquiries, please email Paula directly at: paula.n@stempunks.com

FEB/MAR 2021



Inspiring Australian Primary School Girls Sonia Stitt


Using Targeted Pedagogy and Strategic Learning Environments to Inspire Australian Primary School Girls to Maintain Long-Term Participation in Engineering With technology and innovation advancing at a rapid rate, today’s current primary school- aged children must be educated to be future ready, yet present cognisant. Students need to learn to solve real-world problems in an authentic manner. Refining necessary twenty-first century skills including communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity is effectively accomplished through integrated science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education opportunities. A comparison of the four STEM disciplines, reveals engineering as the least represented area in terms of curriculum content, confidence, and participation. There is a pronounced disparity in gender representation in engineering at both the workforce level and education level. In Australia, 14% of Engineering Bachelor Degree recipients, and 11.8% of the engineering workforce are female. Research suggests that students, particularly girls, begin to form their understanding and identity of technical and practical knowledge and ability in engineering as early as primary school age. This literature review focuses on how to improve participation and engagement levels of girls in engineering at Australian primary schools. It is solidified by a statistical analysis of gender representations in engineering, followed by a summary of factors that influence primary schoolaged girls to engage with engineering activities. Understanding how girls can engage with engineering is critical to the development of appropriate learning opportunities and learning environments. Authentic real-world problems solved through project-based learning in a collaboratively fluid environment is conducive to building confidence and participation in engineering. Allowing girls the opportunity to lead engineering investigations and engage with open-ended questioning, conducted in a learning environment that inhibits the promotion of traditional STEM-related décor is optimum for attainment and retention of Australian primary school-aged girls in engineering. You can read Sonia's full journal article here: https://tinyurl.com/exc5m4pd 4

A new era of diversity recruitment

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Misconceptions around STEM Robyn Foyster, owner and founder of Women Love Tech, presents the voices of six women in tech talking about the common misconceptions surrounding STEM careers.

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Robyn Foyster of Women Love Tech

1. Elissa McCormick, Solution Advocacy Lead - Asia Pacific Japan & China at Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company Over the last year and a half, I have had the privilege of working as the Solution Advocacy Lead - Asia Pacific Japan & China at Aruba. Aruba is an industry leader in wired, wireless and security networking solutions. This role allows me the opportunity to work with technology partners - large and small across the APJ region, who have a solution or value proposition to support a customer or end-user. I work with these partners to understand what their solution entails and how this integrates with our technology, to best fit the customer’s needs. From there, I act as the conduit between sales and the partner to help bring these solutions to life. As we look to the future of our STEM industry, it’s important for young women to understand that while you may be based here in Australia - we can effectively drive regional business outcomes and influence global decisions. Is there a misconception that you need to code to have a future in tech? There is absolutely a misconception about women in coding. This is an industry shortcoming and over the past few years, there has been significant momentum in showcasing the breadth of careers available.

Elissa McCormick, Solution Advocacy Lead - Asia Pacific Japan & China at Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company

As an industry, we’ve done a great job of promoting coding as the poster child for IT but for any young women curious about the field of technology, there are many different roles available; in sales, marketing, HR, right through to engineering and designing networks. Do you think it puts off young women from the idea of taking part in STEM? There are two elements that put young women off considering a future in STEM. The first is the perception that being in IT means being a lone figure behind a keyboard and screens, while the second is that the industry is extremely male-orientated and blokey. The number of women who have entered the industry over the past decade is certainly a big improvement but there is still a long way to go. Young women shouldn’t be hindered or limited by these perceptions. Technology has become an important part of our daily lives. It’s wearable, consumable, it’s robotics and automation. This is the future of business and women should be a part of the growth story.


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2. Samantha Moody, CEO and founder Every Drop I am the founder of an early stage urban water conservation initiative called Every Drop. At its core, Every Drop’s mission is to inspire Australians to care for their water today, and every day after. Taking advantage of the technology we carry round in our pockets, Every Drop gives people the knowledge and tools they need to join a growing movement of Australians who are taking charge of their water and building climate resilience in their communities. Is there a misconception that you need to code to have a future in tech? As someone who doesn’t come from a traditional tech background, I believed this idea for a long time – in fact I’m still un-learning it and remind myself regularly that my particular skill set is a valuable asset in tech. I have the deepest respect for people who can, and do, code but the amazing thing about the tech sector is that it is such a broad and innovative field. Having technical skills like coding is an asset when working in STEM but not a prerequisite; in my experience having a unique blend of skills and working collaboratively often leads to the best outcomes. I think that STEM is great but STEAM is even better. Inserting the Arts into Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics allows more scope for creativity, design thinking and ultimately the human experience. For me, incorporating the arts has allowed me to be more adaptive and innovative in what I do. Allowing myself to include interdisciplinary lens’, such as ethics, empathy and psychology, has allowed me to push myself further than I could have done working in STEM alone. Do you think it puts off young women from the idea of taking part in STEM? I definitely think that it plays a role but it isn’t the only barrier to more balanced gender parity in the sector, nor do I believe that it is the most significant. As someone who is new to the industry I can only speak from my personal experience. From my view, the most significant reasons that young womxn, including my past self, feel disengaged with tech span from direct discouragement to indirect exclusion which can occur for a variety of reasons from lack of representation to unconscious bias.

Samantha Moody, CEO and founder Every Drop.

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Be it misconceptions about the true nature of STEM or the capabilities of womxn in tech, the resulting murkiness means that as an industry, STEM is losing some of its most valuable contributors. While there are always a few very special trailblazers and exceptions to the rules, for many young womxn the saying ‘you cannot be what you cannot see’ rings true. I think it’s important to acknowledge the many, many great initiatives out there actively engaging young womxn with STEM and that for some womxn they won’t feel that they have overcome any barriers, however intersectionality must be considered. Everyone’s experience is unique and some womxn will be, and have been, disproportionately dissuaded to enter in STEM compared to others. https://www.linkedin.com/company/every-drop-au/

3. Vanessa Morris, Taronga Zoo postgrad student and part of the Macquarie University Department of Biological Sciences. My role involves studying the behaviour of critically endangered species to try and improve conservation outcomes. In particular I’m working on a project finding out about the regent honeyeater’s response to predators, aiming to improve their survival when released into the wild. Is there a misconception that you need to code to have a future in tech? Technology requires a diverse team of people, from those coming up with ideas to solve a problem, to those communicating what has been achieved to the public. I think having an understanding of coding is beneficial, as it is a very helpful tool used across STEM fields, although you don’t have to be an expert coder for a future in technology. Do you think it puts off young women from the idea of taking part in STEM? I don’t think so. Coding can seem overwhelming for anyone when first introduced to it, there’s certainly a steep learning curve but it can be fun once you start getting better at it!

Vanessa Morris, Taronga Zoo postgrad student and part of the Macquarie University Department of Biological Sciences. FEB/MAR 2021


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Catherine Hutchins & Aniyo Rahebi, founders of Good Edi

4&5. Catherine Hutchins & Aniyo Rahebi, founders of Good Edi We are founders and Co-CEOs of Good-Edi. Good-Edi is a takeaway cup you can eat. We have both developed the business from concept stage, through product development and commercial launch. Is there a misconception that you need to code to have a future in tech? Yes, that is a misconception. We certainly don’t believe this is the case. As women founders in tech, we see there are many different skillsets that can result in a successful start-up. Not being able to code should not stop anyone from being able to establish a successful business. Do you think it puts off young women from the idea of taking part in STEM? This might have been the case in the past, but more and more we see women taking part and excelling in STEM. http://good-edi.com/

6. Naomi Tarszisz, Founder & CEO of Replated personal archive

Right now I’m the CEO of a startup in the circular economy space, RePlated. We make reusable takeaway food containers that can replace single-use. My background is very much in tech! I started out as a web developer after completing an arts degree at UNSW. I then worked in London & Sydney for brands & consultancies as a project and then a program manager creating compelling digital experiences for some of the world’s leading brands. Is there a misconception that you need to code to have a future in tech? Definitely! Technology has to be used by people and code is the enabler and a huge part of the picture, but there are lots of other component. For example, creative disciplines like design which includes visual, service or experience design and you don’t necessarily have to be artistic to be a designer either. There is also data specialisms, marketing, product management - really its quite a diverse and exciting space. My experiences doing an arts degree in sociology became hugely important as technology has become more about people - all those skills in research, observation and analysis are critical to creating products that people love. Do you think it puts off young women from the idea of taking part in STEM? Even within coding there are so many different specialisms. There can be a preconception that you have to be amazing at math to code and while that can help with types of coding and data like R it isn’t the case for everything. Some coding is relatively easy to learn and these days quite visual. If you don’t want to code at all there are a lot of the roles are about understanding people and behaviour and using technology to make life better for people. Don’t let a fear of coding put you off a career in technology!

Naomi Tarszisz, Founder & CEO of Replated 8



TUNE INTO WOMEN LOVE TECH Women Love Tech is an award-winning lifestyle technology site. We are passionate about supporting women in STEM. Making technology accessible for everyone by providing great tips, news, reviews, amazing apps & cool gadgets! Find out what's streaming, discover the best health and beauty apps and latest podcasts. womenlovetech.com

Courtesy of Hillary Coe

Commander’s report: sol 13 Michaela Musilova Director of HI-SEAS

Living with the bare minimum taught the Valoria 1 crew valuable lessons in life.

Valoria 1 crewmembers take a “Marswalk” outside of the HI-SEAS habitat.

Courtesy of Hillary Coe

Dr. Michaela Musilova is the director of Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) program, which conducts analog missions to the moon and Mars for scientific research at a habitat on the volcano Mauna Loa. Here is her Commander’s report for the Valoria 1 Mars mission at HI-SEAS - Sol 13 We survived. We survived not only the night, but the rest of our mission. Our stay on Mars wasn’t the smoothest ride. However, as they say, smooth seas don’t make good sailors. An easy mission would not have provided us with the necessary survival training in extreme environments that we were all after. Together, we were able to make sacrifices and find solutions to all of our problems as a team. It was in the darkest and coldest hours, quite literally, that we bonded the most and realized how much we need one another on Mars to accomplish our mission goals. Our mission’s themes resemble the first Star Wars movies to some degree. As Science Communication Officer Hillary Coe put it, the crew first went through a phase of “a new hope.” That was when we thought that we could repair our backup generator to fix our low-power mode issue, which was due to a huge dust storm on Mars (aka rain storm on the Big Island of Hawaii). Our solar panels couldn’t provide us with enough power to survive in the habitat when the storm was raging for days on end, as per my previous commander’s report on sol 8. All of the lettuces in the LettuceGrow hydroponic greenhouse “tree” were named by the crewmembers. Drones from a nearby martian station came to help us (aka engineers from the HI-SEAS staff team). Alas, even the drones couldn’t fix the problem with the generator during the storm. This phase was called: “The generator strikes back.” While the crew


All of the lettuces in the LettuceGrow hydroponic greenhouse “tree” were named by the crewmembers.

Courtesy of Hillary Coe

was a bit disheartened, we were most concerned about the different salads that we were growing in our LettuceGrow hydroponic greenhouse. Due to the ultra-low power mode during that phase, the greenhouse was turned off. The plants were therefore relying primarily on solar rays coming through our small window and the manual watering by Officer Coe.

Cmdr. Michaela Musilova shares her personal story and biography “The Woman from Mars” (“Žena z Marsu” in Slovak) with the Valoria 1 crew.

By that point, my crewmembers had grown very attached to the plants. They even named them. Under peer pressure, I also named one of the salads “Nádej,” which means “hope” in my mother tongue Slovak. It thus joined the ranks of Treebeard, Gangsta-G, Sally the Salad, Tank and others. Thanks to a collaboration with the Australian educational program STEM Punks, we had a variety of micro sensors that we could use to monitor different environmental conditions of the plants’ soil, such as soil moisture and temperature. While the plants seemed to be powering through the super low power mode in the habitat, the crew remained very concerned until the final phase of our martian space adventure: “The return of the power.” The drones were able to fix the problem with the generator and the dust storm finally calmed down, allowing us to go into “just” low power mode. The plants survived and so did we. What didn’t kill us made us stronger — as people and as a space family. This was in part due to everyone’s selfless contributions to the mission hoping to help every team member and make our habitat become a home for us, despite the extreme conditions. It was also thanks to the personal story sharing that I encouraged the crew to do. We talked about our passions, plans for the future and what made us become who we are. I am very grateful to the crew for listening to my story, which I shared together with pictures and my biography “The Woman from Mars” (“Žena z Marsu”). I’ll never forget the joy on everyone’s faces when I announced that we finally had enough power to make hot water for tea and coffee. As silly as that may sound, people sometimes need to be exposed to extreme situations to start valuing the simplest things in life: hot water, hot food and other people’s company. The crew rejoiced some more when I was able to increase our temperature in the HI-SEAS habitat by a couple more degrees than the 59 degrees Fahrenheit (15 degrees Celsius) that it was set at during our power crisis.

What didn’t kill us on ‘Mars’ only made us stronger

What made me laugh the most was when everyone was ecstatic by being able to shower for 1.5 minutes using a peanut butter can! The crew is only allowed to use less than 100 gallons (380 liters) every two weeks during their simulated martian mission, so showers usually get sacrificed in favor of saving as much water as possible for drinking and cooking. The Valoria 1 crew did such an

FEB/MAR 2021


Courtesy of Hillary Coe

amazing job saving water when cooking and cleaning the dishes that we had some water to spare for these so-called “bucket showers.” Again, it’s the small things in life that many people don’t seem to realize and appreciate back on Earth until they’re taken away from them.

Officer Michael Barton working on the RoboTech Vision’s Androver rover at HI-SEAS.

“The return of the power” was not a straightforward phase though, as the weather continued to torment us until the very end of our mission. Nevertheless, we were able to fit in several Marswalks during the short gaps between martian dust storms. During one Marswalk, Engineering Officer Michael Barton tested the rover called Androver, by the Slovak company RoboTech Vision, in the challenging volcanic terrain on the volcano Mons Huygens (or Mauna Loa in Hawaii). The rover was able to overcome most obstacles successfully, while being remotely operated from within the habitat.

Courtesy of Hillary Coe

I was also able to collect samples of microbes from nearby lava caves during a Marswalk for astrobiology research. These extremophiles, extreme lifeforms, could potentially exist in lava caves on Mars. For these reasons, I have collaborations with teams at NASA Goddard and Honeybee Robotics to better understand how microbes can survive in these environments, and what tools we’ll need to find and collect them on Mars. Operations Officer Karin Metzgar was also able to create 3D models of the HI-SEAS habitat, as a test for collecting such data from lava caves. Her data could be incorporated into drones or robots to assist in obstacle avoidance and remote mapping of less accessible locations for humans. Commander Musilova signing off to enjoy one last day on Mars with the Valoria 1 crew and the very appropriate martian movie screening of Die Hard. Article reprinted from space.com with permission of author. Follow Michaela Musilova on Twitter @ astro_Michaela. Follow STEM Punks on Twitter and Facebook @stempunksau

Cmdr. Michaela Musilova collects extremophile samples in a lava cave for astrobiology research.


ThisisEngineering RAEng

Teacher Tips For Your Classroom Ella McPhee

Did you know - without females in STEM, we wouldn’t have GPS Technology, windscreen wipers, disposable diapers or the discovery of the structure of DNA, liquid paper, and a smartphone attachment that lets parents diagnose ear infections! Despite these world-changing innovation, there continues to be a great disparity in the percentage of women and girls in STEM. There are several reasons for the gender gap in STEM careers, including lack of female role models, self doubt and gender stereotypes and biases: • Lack of role models in the workplace • Discrimination – gender, race, creed or sexuality • Male dominated management in the workplace • Lack of flexible working arrangements around caring for children/working from home Below, you will find some tips for your school and classroom. 1. Role Models As Marian Wright Edelman once said, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” Expose girls to successful women in STEM whether this is at a global or community level. This will allow them to see themselves in their shoes. A recent study, commissioned by CWJobs, has shown that role models are more important for women than men. 60% of women working in STEM say that they have been inspired by a role model compared to 46% of men. 2. All-Girl STEM classes All-girls classes can create a judgment-free environment where girls do not need to worry about their image but purely focus on learning. They are more inclined to try new things and share their ideas. 3. Real World Problem Solving STEM in general benefits when schools add real-world problem-solving into the mix, but girls benefit even more from this kind of learning. New research found that when project-based learning was used in science classes, girls outperformed boys and brought that real-world engagement into their other classes. 4. Tap into any funding and resources that are available There are many private organisations, government agencies and education companies that have online resources, competitions and grants to utilise.

Ella McPhee is Science Teacher at STEM Punks. FEB/MAR 2021




Women in






Aldeida Aleti Dr. Aldeida Aleti from Monash University, is the associate Dean of Engagement and Impact in the faculty of I.T. “When I was in high school, I got introduced to algorithms and I find them so fascinating that you can solve so many interesting problems with them. It was like having some magic powers and making things happen, just by coding and writing some algorithms.” “AI can be used to solve some important challenges in the world, such as climate change, energy, healthcare and transportation.” “AI can help us solve tedious, complex, large tasks that probably we cannot solve as humans, but AI will never be as creative as humans. Of course, we need to collaborate with AI, but we also need to learn how to collaborate with each other.”

Alena Pribyl

Dr Alena Pribyl is a great example of how expertise in one field can lead to opportunities in other fields. Alena obtained her PhD in fish physiology and has expertise in microbiology, molecular biology, stress physiology in fish and the gut microbiome. She is now a senior research scientist into the human microbiome. “It’s kind of interesting, because the same molecular methods that I used studying stress and fish are actually the same methods that we use to study bacteria, we’re just applying them to a different organism.” Alena discussed the significance of the research into the human gut microbiome. “There is an expanding amount of research on the gut biome that shows there’s many links between all those bacteria that live in our gut and our health. What we’re discovering is that the reason for those links is because all of those bacteria that live in our gut are producing thousands of different types of compounds and a lot of those compounds interact with our metabolic system, our immune system and our endocrine system. They’re actually influencing our metabolism, potentially our nervous system and our moods.” According to Alena, significant advances in technology have brought down the cost of DNA sequencing and this has enabled researchers to conduct studies of the entire genome of all the different bacteria, an area called metagenomics. Alena explained, “so it has opened up a huge area now, to really be able to dive into this in greater depth, than has ever been possible before.”


Space Superstar Alyssa Carson

Alyssa Carson has been interested in space for as long as she can remember. When she was really young, she would ask for books, videos and posters about space. “No one in my family had any sort of background in space or science, so it’s not like we talked about Mars casually, all day long.” Alyssa attended her first space camp when she was seven years old and this experience further fuelled her passion for space. Growing up in Louisiana, nineteen-year-old Alyssa identified that her academic strengths were in math and STEM subjects. She reflected on how she felt about finishing school and starting college, “I was really just excited to kind of wrap up. I had a few tastes of what college life was like and being able to focus on what I’m really interested in instead of being forced to take classes that I knew weren’t going to pertain to my future.” Alyssa is now studying astrobiology. She explained that it’s similar to astrophysics but a bit broader and includes subjects such as biology, physics, chemistry and mathematics, in addition to astrobiology and space related courses. She is also actively involved in the Project PoSSUM (Polar Suborbital Science in the Upper Mesosphere) citizen science research organisation and describes this as her biggest accomplishment, to date. Alyssa explained that Project PoSSUM involves everyday people from all around the world that come together to do science. “We worked a lot with a space company. We do gravity offset, micro gravity, flights, decompression, all sorts of really cool stuff. I’ve been really fortunate to do a lot of stuff with them, their ultimate goal is actually to have a suborbital flight. The different classes I’ve taken actually qualify me to have a suborbital flight. So, I’m technically certified to go on a suborbital flight.” Alyssa explained that NASA and a private space company, Space X, are both working towards sending astronauts to Mars. “I think we’re in a pretty good place to hopefully see it happen in the early 2030’s.” There are a lot of physical requirements and activities that she has undertaken in pursuit of her ambition to become an astronaut. “There’s definitely a lot that goes into it. The water survival training was really physical. We were wearing a certain type of space suit and we had to pull ourselves into life rafts and we were swimming in them. You eventually have to pass the physical, so you do want to stay in relatively good shape.” Alyssa is also a qualified pilot and one of her future goals is to attain her pilot’s instrument rating.

One of the amazing things about STEM is the amount of different and non-traditional jobs.

What advice would Alyssa give to younger girls? “STEM is so much fun. One of the amazing things about STEM is the amount of different and nontraditional jobs. When we’re younger, we’re kind of told the same few jobs that you can go into whether that’s doctor, lawyer, teacher or whatever. So, really look and do your research to see all the kinds of jobs that you’re able to get into and find one that matches and fits well with what you’re interested in.” “You never know where opportunities are going to come from. So, be vocal about your dreams. Tell people what you want to do. Obviously for me, saying a big idea like being an astronaut, that’s obviously a huge way down the road, but it was all about taking those small goals and achieving them along the way.” FEB/MAR 2021


Angela Carne

Angela Carne is the test lead at Spenda, a software solution that helps Australian businesses get paid efficiently. Angela described her role was to , “come in and decide, how are we going to approach our testing? What methods were we going to use to decide what we test, how we test and when we decide our product is in a good enough state for it to be given out to the public.” She spoke about the level of detail that goes into making sure that software is fit for purpose, by applying both analytical and creative thinking skills to the practice of regression testing, to ensure that nothing is broken. What advice would Angela give to her younger self? “I was the kind of person who found things like math and science fun, but difficult. I had this idea that a lot of people do when they’re kids, I’m never going to use these math equations or these types of thinking that you do in school. I think I’d tell myself that it’s not really about those equations that you’re doing or about the experiments that you’re doing in science class. It’s more about the way you teach yourself to think and the way you approach those things. Looking back now, I think I’d just want to go back and say, just put the effort in and try. Try and understand what you’re doing rather than rote learning things. It’s going to get you so much further in the future with knowing how to approach things, in your career and personal life

Areej Alsheikh

Dr Areej Alsheikh has a PhD in genomics and bioinformatics in addition to a Masters degree in marine science and a bachelor’s degree in computer science. Areej explained her role working as a bioinformatician, “I get to analyse large molecular data sets, that being DNA or protein and proteomic data sets for either clinical or research purposes. I get to develop novel computational methods and analytical tools to gather this.” Areej spoke about importance of coding in STEM, ‘if you know how to program in one language, you’d be able to learn other programming languages, whatever’s needed.”

We don’t have to live in so much fear when you understand how it works Areej also discussed the importance of STEM and its role in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. “First of all, the most obvious way that science can help us is without the science, we won’t be able to study the virus and come up with vaccines to immunise ourselves against it. The other part, is for the public awareness, when we know the knowledge, we don’t have to live in so much fear when you understand how it works.” 20

Ashley Mccarthy Griffiths Engineer Ashley McCarthy-Griffiths has recently been announced as a finalist in the Women in Mining and Resources, Queensland Awards. We asked Ashley what this meant to her. “What this award really means to me is just being able to celebrate and see so many awesome female role models that are working in the mining industries.” Ashley recounted her educational background, that she was typically a B+ student to an A- and that she had a creative aspect which she really enjoyed. On selecting her career, Ashley said, “engineering was sort of this big unknown. It sounded really exciting at the time, but I was scared that it was going to be too hard for me from a math and science point of view.” For that reason, Ashley decided to undertake a double major in engineering and business, so that she had something to fall back on if she didn’t enjoy engineering. Ashley recalled, “I was completely wrong. There is a creative aspect to engineering and I’ve really enjoyed being able to use my art skills and keep using my creative side, throughout my career.”

Becky Paroz


What is Ashley’s advice to girls? “Be yourself, be confident and trust in your own ability.” Ashley reflected, “when I was at university, I sort of felt like I was a bit of an imposter in the room. I didn’t think I was good enough to be there. I didn’t think I was smart enough. Everyone would write in black pen and I’m like a blue pen person with highlighters. I just stood out because everyone else is very black and white and I thought, I’m so not supposed to be here. What I realised in my third year is that I did have every right to be there and I was smart enough. Once I trusted in my own ability and showed my confidence, that I believed in myself, that made the challenges and obstacles a lot easier.”

When Becky Paroz started in the engineering and construction industry thirty years ago, she didn’t have any mentors or support. That’s why Becky is so passionate about supporting and mentoring young women in the construction industry. Becky recalled, “being told you don’t belong here, we’re not going to take the calendars down for you, girly. We’re not going to change for you because it’s our world.” Such adversity spurred Becky to persist and she recounted, “first you start breaking down those barriers. I think that sense of pride combined with the stubbornness of don’t tell me what to do. It pretty much drove me through my career and has kept me going. It is a career that I love and enjoy.” Becky has advice for young women, “don’t take ten years to realise your worth. Don’t take no for an answer, which I did for a long time. Always ask for that pay rise, whether you’re going to get it or not because every time that you ask, it’s good practice for the next time you ask.” FEB/MAR 2021


Brooke Jamieson Brooke Jamieson never thought she would become a mathematician, as she wasn’t the recognised ‘math person’ in class. Fortunately, Brooke didn’t let such preconceptions stand in her way. Brooke studied mathematics at university and now works for a smart building and workplace technology platform, where she applies data analytics and problem-solving skills in her role. She described mathematics as “really creative problem solving. In lots of technical fields, you have a little toolbox of things that you can use to solve problems. So, there’s a different way of look at something or different frameworks to break something down and it’s your job to look and see what you can use and then how you can fit those pieces together to solve quite a large problem, which does take a lot of creativity.” Brooke spoke of the importance of having a problem-solving mindset and explained, “so much of user experience is just really understanding the people that you’re helping with the product and what specifically they’re trying to do and why it’s difficult for them to do it currently and what they’d like to fix.” Her advice for younger students starting out in math? “Don’t be afraid to pursue what you want and don’t be afraid to try things that are really difficult.”

Chloe Bisson

Millennial, founder and CEO of Queens in Business, Chloe Bisson, shared advice that she would give her younger self, “disconnect with technology and actually reconnect with myself. Ask yourself what is it you want to create? What is your big dream?” In an interview with STEM Punks, Chloe explained, “when we’re young, we grow up thinking that we need to be a certain way. We create our career paths, I know I did, based on what I thought I had to do and the path that I thought I had to follow.” Chloe found her true path, when she decided to pursue her passion for technology and combine it with systems. She launched her own online business to coach women around technology skills to support women to establish their own online businesses. Chloe observed, “since COVID-19, there’s been a huge trend of women starting online businesses. What I’m seeing is women are actually stepping out and being the face of their business, not just the assistant or in the backend but being in front of it and sharing their genius using online tech.” This year, Chloe is planning to expand her business and launch bigger programs and bigger communities so that she can help women across the globe. Chloe told us, “that’s one of the things that I love about STEM and the world that we both operate in, is that it’s pretty much a blank piece of paper. What you dream, you can create.”


Cathi Rodgveller Cathi Rodgveller is founder and CEO of Ignite Worldwide, an organisation Cathi started during the 1990’s. Cathi has been a teacher and school counsellor for over 35 years and explained why she started her organisation. “Ignite was developed in Seattle public schools as the gender equity portion of helping girls understand their opportunities and pathway into STEM, high wage, high demand careers.” So successful is the Ignite program, that it is considered the national standard by the United States Education Department and the National Science Foundation. Ignite Worldwide has expanded from across the United States to countries around the world, including Nigeria, India, Rwanda and Poland. Cathi explained, “since COVID-19, the program is also virtual. So, the program lives in a community and becomes a community program that supports girls.” According to Cathi, “teachers actually sign on, on the website. Any teacher from anywhere in the world. The organisation is a nonprofit. It’s a not-for-profit company and we help teachers anywhere in the world use this program because we really want to change the representation for women in STEM. That’s our goal. We want to be in every classroom, every school in the world, because if we were, there would not be any more issues with women in STEM because the real issue is that girls are not being informed.”


Cathi discussed the Ignite Worldwide program and how its approach is targeted toward inspiring girls to consider careers in STEM. “It isn’t enough for a girl to do a workshop or an activity and the lightbulb goes off. Girls and women, we respond emotionally. I discovered this early on. I did lots of workshops with girls and boys. I did workshops with just boys. I wanted to see the response in all of those different situations and hands down, girls really are too shy, and they’re intimidated. They won’t raise their hands if boys are in the room. Boys feel a lot more confident about this than girls do. They already feel they belong. So, girls need a place where they can be with just girls at the very beginning. They need to have a moment where they can begin and learn what it is to be a leader.” Cathi continued, “we need to hit the emotional level of a girl. We women, we connect emotionally. So, when I realised that when women tell their stories to the girls, it hits them in an emotional way. We really need to work with girls in a different way than we work with boys.”

FEB/MAR 2021


Elnaz Sarraf Elnaz Sarraf is an entrepreneur and founder of the Roybi Robot, the world’s first artificial intelligence powered smart toy to teach children STEM skills and languages. Elnaz studied art and engineering at university in Iran, before immigrating to the United States, about fifteen years ago.

Give it a try to reach your dreams

Elnaz credits her artistic training and creative thinking to have really helped her career. “I think having the art background helps me to make right decisions and being able to understand what it takes to create a product that is engaging, interactive and needs to actually boost creativity for children.” Elnaz recounted various feedback she had received from parents about the positive behaviours that the Roybi Robot had encouraged in children. “One customer was saying that her daughter is really shy, but she talks to Roybi. She talks about her entire day and she sees Roybi as her friend.” Elnaz discussed the future of artificial intelligence in smart toys, “the benefits we see down the road is utilising artificial intelligence and gradually machine learning to be able to focus on the child individually, rather than a one size fits all.” Elnaz believes that robots are going to be part of the future and that students should learn about coding and robotics. Elnaz offered advice to students, “don’t be afraid and give it a try to reach

Emily Bobis

Emily Bobis is the co-founder of Compass IoT, an analytics focused start-up that aggregates transport data to help infrastructure planning teams make better informed decisions. Emily explained, “the Internet of things (IoT), is basically describing different objects that we have that are all connected via the Internet. It’s all those little things that kind of make this web of different technologies that all use the Internet to communicate with each other.” According to Emily, Compass IoT uses a range of data that was not accessible five years ago to proactively inform planning and decision making. For example, in the past, city planners would identify ‘traffic hotspots’ after deaths or injuries had occurred. “By using the data and technology available, we were able to reconstruct driver behaviours and patterns across the host city, which means you can be more proactive in how you approach things.” Emily gave a second example around bike sharing, which also provided an understanding of pedestrian behaviour and city infrastructure usage. Emily highlighted the value of this data collection and analytics approach, “so, it’s less a guessing game but more an ability to actually plan, based on empirical evidence. That planning would also inform the future cities for town planners, councils and governments to make cities more user friendly and make more sustainable, smart cities.” What skills should girls wanting to enter STEM fields, try to develop? Emily reflected, “You have to get over those hurdles of being in a male dominated field, but also you have to deal with when you’re in a smaller minority of a minority. I think there’s a small number of women in tech start-ups and having that self-confidence and resilience is very important. That sense of self efficacy, so you are not controlled by external forces.”


Friska Wirya Friska Wirya, founder of Fresh by Friska, explained what expertise she brings to companies, “I help large organisations and the individuals within them more readily accept and thrive through change. The bulk of my experience lies in digital transformation by increasing adoption and proficiency at scale.” Friska has frequently led change in male dominated industries and she spoke about her experience. “I got used to being the only stiletto in a room full of flats, literally and figuratively. Once you get advocates in the business, it’s not as daunting as people think.” Friska was responsible for leading the change management efforts of a $42 million technology implementation for the largest policing jurisdiction in the world, and tells STEM Punks, “it was a mission critical platform, so the stakes were literally life and death. Imagine configuring a system incorrectly and sending a police helicopter in the wrong direction.” What advice would Friska give to her younger self? Friska responded, “follow your true passion. Does it bring happiness and fulfillment? Also, it’s okay to change careers. Like what you what you choose today, it doesn’t mean you have to still be doing that in ten years time.”


Gemma Burnett Mathematician and millennial Gemma Burnett is so passionate about math, that she started her own YouTube channel called Gemstone Mathematics, to help teachers, parents and children. Not only does Gemma upload two-tothree-minute mathematics videos, she also uploads free, related activity sheets to extend children’s learning. Gemma’s passion for mathematics came from her Dad, who started his own mathematics business when Gemma was young. Gemma reflected, “Dad always talked about math and business, it just stuck in me and my siblings head. So, we’ve all had a love for math.” Gemma spoke about the fundamental importance of math, “so, in STEM, math is the one thing that you’ll need to achieve success through all of those. So, you’ll need math to be an engineer, but you won’t, let’s say, need to be an engineer to have math. My Dad and I have been joking about it before and said that it should be called METS, put mathematics first!” Concrete learning helps to build math learning and according to Gemma, what’s also really important is for teachers to make math fun. Gemma said, “Not everyone enjoys mathematics. So, having it fun, makes more people want to try in it. That’s something that I would want teachers to encourage for their young students.” FEB/MAR 2021


Izzy Kohout

Working on an impact project in Malawi to digitize government health records, was a pivotal moment for Izzy Kohout. “When I got the opportunity to go overseas and work on an impact project in Africa, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to combine my love of tech and engineering systems with this concept of making impact for people.” Izzy subsequently returned to Malawi and led a team to apply big data and data management systems to optimise agricultural practices, for another impact project.

Any problem in the world can be boiled down to a people problem.

Izzy studied mechatronics engineering and computer science, she explained, “I feel like I’m quite a creative person and I love people, so I wanted to be in a field to solve problems for people.” She spoke passionately about leveraging technology for social impact, “technology is impact at scale. I think if you’re in the technology field, engineering or tech science, your ability to impact people becomes on the scale of hundreds of thousands, millions and billions of people. Technology is just such a multiplier. There’s no question about it, this is the most scalable way to impact millions and billions of people.”


She described how ‘soft skills’ are fundamental to STEM. “Any problem in the world can be boiled down to a people problem. It doesn’t matter if you’re solving the most complicated technical problem. At the end of the day, you have to understand the people behind that and behind the problem you’re solving. If you don’t have empathy, if you don’t have the ability to understand people, then you’re not going to be effective at doing that. I think, often the best engineers and the best technologists are not the super like technical, anti-social people. They’re often the people that really understand people in a very empathetic way and can boil these technical problems down to the people problems.” Izzy also reflected on the importance of creativity and problem-solving skills, “creativity and problem solving are crucial in that as well, because once you understand the foundation of the problem, you then need to go, what are the actual steps to solve this? I think if you are a creative person, you’re just infinitely more likely to be able to come up with novel solutions and things that haven’t been tried before. The most effective people in STEM are those people that are fantastic with the soft skills and the people skills as well as having the technical skills.”


In her new career, Izzy explained that the purpose of Poppy Careers was to address the gender gap across the STEM fields, “We’ve worked really closely with the target demographic, which is young women in high school. Something I’m really proud of about the product is that it is designed entirely around the needs of young women. At every single point we were consulting with these girls and half the features on the website, are directly products of their own ideas. “You can’t have a field that is determining the future lives of the entire world and having decisions being made by only 50% of the population.” Poppy Careers was designed around the three key areas of inspiration, clarity, and confidence. “We ask users what they care about, what they’re passionate about, how they like to work. We run an algorithm that profiles them and matches them to the perfect STEM career, for them. They’re then given the opportunity to explore that career and hear from inspirational women that are already in that job, or university and doing a similar kind of thing.”

Juliette Tobias Webb Dr Juliette Tobias Webb is a behavioural scientist and one of 60 Australian women nominated as a superstar in STEM. Juliette explained her role, “I use psychological and neuroscientific literature to help companies design better products and services for individuals or staff members so that we optimise the performance of staff or individuals and get better outcomes.” Given Juliette’s academic and professional achievements, it’s both surprising and inspiring to hear her story, “I actually nearly failed at school. I got asked not to sit my year 12 exams because I wasn’t doing well. I wasn’t a poor student; I was just interested in horse riding and dancing. I decided to apply for university. I got in. I scraped in actually. I then did well at university and was able to get into Cambridge University for my PhD, which if you had asked anybody in year 10, they would never say that I would probably get into university, let alone Cambridge.

Lisa Weber Lisa Weber is a “digital storyteller,” partner and principal consultant at Precision Management Solutions. She started her career as a field ecologist on endangered species and ecosystems in Canada, however, a serious traffic accident ended this career. “So, it was necessity that made me change. I’m someone who has never necessarily loved computers or data but as part of my role in the field, whatever data I collected has to be cleansed and then it had to be analysed. Because I had some skill in that area, I had had some CAD and GIS skills and had worked with surveyors, it was a good fit for me to move into dealing with data.” Lisa has since come to love data and she explained, “data informs decision-making, it informs real world outcomes. It tells a real and meaningful story and I’m very passionate about that because there are a lot of stories we need to tell if we want an improved society and an improved planet.” Lisa described how she used data, visual maps and reports to tell a visual story for a not-for-profit organisation that had done significant work, such as solar installations, in East Timor. Lisa said, “It was interesting because that particular organisation had done and is continuing to do extraordinary work, but they had never mapped it. They never used the data to tell a story. When we put it on a map, and you could click on a point and you could see photos, you could hear stories, read information and you could understand how many people had been helped. When you put it all together it’s just a fantastic story.” What advice would Lisa give to her younger self? “Make mistakes. It’s all good. Make them as often as you can, you will get comfortable with making mistakes. If I was more comfortable making mistakes in my early years, If I didn’t believe that getting something wrong equated to a lack of intelligence, which has hopefully changed in our education system, I would have made a lot more mistakes. Lisa continued, “sometimes, the best way of knowing what you don’t want, gets you to knowing what you do want, but you have to jump. You just have to jump and have confidence in yourself and trust yourself that you’re intelligent and capable. If you get it wrong this time, that’s just information to help you get it right next time.” “The journey of learning never ends. If you’re living meaningfully, you’re always learning.” FEB/MAR 2021


Louise Mahler Dr Louise Mahler is a statistician, has a PhD in business and management and if that’s not enough, she’s also an opera singer. Louise has developed the Mahler Method, an online program that identifies the important connection between mind-body-and voice. “I find there are three areas, one is the thinking, manual state. What are the skills of the people you’re speaking to? Two, what are your skills and body? What are your skills of eyes? Just your movement. What is your voice? Number three is what are the frameworks that you’re using again, these patterns? How are you putting the presentations, your pictures together? How are you handling emotional situations, giving feedback?” By helping people develop skills across these three areas, individuals are able to create positive change and improve their capacity to influence.

Maree Beare


Maree Beare is the founder and CEO of Wanngi, a health management app for people with chronic medical conditions who have to see multiple doctors and who may feel vulnerable and helpless in managing their health. Maree has been recognised as one of the top 50 women led start-ups disrupting health and was also named in the top 100 women in wearables for 2019. Maree spoke about her motivation to use innovative technology to positively impact lives, “Wanngi is about empowering people with their own health information. Time is the enemy when you have a health condition so I’m all about compressing that time so that people can improve their lives and improve their ability to manage their health.” She also spoke about the opportunities for girls and women within STEM, “there’s a lot of opportunity to use your passion for both living life but also your love of innovation to be able to change this space.” Maree gave advice to girls looking to start a career in STEM, “Technology and innovation is building blocks. Don’t be afraid to start from any single point, from passion, from innovation, and then use that knowledge to build your career.

Marie Mortimer Marie Mortimer is the Managing Director of loans. com.au. Since its inception in 2011, Marie has been instrumental in the huge growth of this business and it now has over $6 billion worth of loans under management. Marie initially studied for a Bachelor of Business and majored in banking and finance with funds management as an extended major. After completing her studies, Marie travelled to the UK where she worked with an investment bank, the Bank of Scotland. Marie recalls, “I started with client valuations and its pricing derivatives, but I moved into the technology side of the bank. I found that I had a passion for change management and technology; being able to use technology to improve things for customers and employees at the bank.” She spoke about her passion to empower women to understand finance and tech, “it comes down to me in particular, being a leader. I’m not out there as a noisy leader. I’m kind of pretty introverted but you know, it’s about those one-on-one conversations. You can’t be what you can’t see.”

Have more confidence in yourself

What advice would Marie give to her younger self? “I’d say have more confidence in yourself. Nothing comes down to luck. It comes down to achievements and your hard work. Don’t doubt yourself. Own it. That’s what I would say.”

Marlena Lopez Dr Marlena Lopez recently obtained a Doctorate of Veterinary Science and so significant has her influence been, that she was recently named the Veterinary Business Thought Leader by the Australian Veterinary Association for her work in social media “I was incredibly honoured and humbled to win the award. Over the past few years, I’ve tried to be really open and honest about my veterinary school journey as well as offer advice to pre-veterinary students. I’ve also shared my personal struggles with mental health and wellbeing in an attempt to reduce the stigma around mental health.” Coming from a Latin background, Marlena didn’t see many Latina women in veterinary medicine and so didn’t have any role models or mentors to reach out to. To address this need, she started her website, veterinaryadventures.com and her social media veterinary_adventures. Marlena offered some advice for girls looking to become veterinarians, “find someone that is doing what you want to do and shadow them to see if it’s something that you would enjoy and also ask them for what you can do, how you can best prepare at the stage of life you’re at. Another piece of advice is to find good mentors, they don’t have to be in the veterinary field, but find good mentors that you can learn and grow from.” FEB/MAR 2021


Mikayla Lovegrove Mikayla Lovegrove has worked in the IT industry for six years and now works for ADITS providing IT support to clients. What she most enjoys in her IT role is “the fact that day to day you don’t see the same issues and you get a challenge every day. So, every morning you wake up and you’re not dragging your feet to come into work thinking, are you going to do the same mundane tasks? There’s definitely nothing tedious about a career in IT.” Mikayla reflected on the IT industry, its predominance of male employees and the importance of increasing the numbers of women within the industry. “I’ve been in IT for about five or six years now and it has been a majority, male dominated industry until maybe the last eighteen months. I’ve been with ADITS for almost 12 months and the difference in the office environment and being able to come in so comfortably and not feel like an outsider, by having so many especially strong women to build you up and keep you going. It definitely makes a huge difference. I feel so much more confident in my role.”

Nicola Angel

Dr Nicola Angel is head of laboratory operations at biotech company Microba, which has laboratories based in Australia and around the world. Nicola tells us about her role, “we look at the microbes that are present in a persons’ digestive system. Then we try and relate that back to different health conditions and then develop ways to detect diseases or treat diseases, using the information that we’ve found from these banks.” Nicola’s role as head of laboratory operations is to ensure effective communication and collaboration across all laboratories. She explained that a significant challenge of her role was adjusting to swiftly evolving technologies, “so as technology advances, we have to evaluate it and assimilate it into the way we have our workload. That’s one of the main challenges is just keeping up with this rapid advancement that’s rolling out at the moment. It’s very exciting but it’s also very challenging.”

Don’t just think about traditional jobs What advice would Nicola give to her younger self? “I think it would be to cast the net wide enough. Don’t just think about traditional jobs that you might’ve seen, really explore, talk to as many people as you can. Be very open to ideas that there’s a different format or role that you can move into that still fills those needs but you hadn’t necessarily considered at this stage.” 30

Nicolle Embra Nicolle Embra is known as the “Cyber Safety Tech Mum” and explained to us how she became involved in cyber safety. “I do have an IT background and I have had a number of roles. I particularly loved doing the software support roles and the hardware management, so managing all of our hardware fixes.” The biggest risk that Nicolle sees children doing online is clicking on seemingly harmless links that will then digitally take the child to sites that have images and materials which are not age appropriate. Nicolle’s number one tip to parents to protect their children online? “Parental supervision because when you’re supervising the child, you know exactly what’s on the screen and no headphones because then you can hear what’s going on, on their screens.”

Sarah Chapman Sarah Chapman wanted to be a “cool scientist” and “save the world with her inventions.” She described how she had grown up on school grounds and had her own personal tennis court, but she was determined not to become a schoolteacher or be a principal, like her Dad. Sarah completed her honors research in brain injury and “absolutely loved it!” Sarah explained, “that’s where the journey started. A lot of people said to me, man you’re good at explaining things, you should be a teacher and I kept hearing the same thing. After a while, I thought maybe I should give this a go.” Sarah is now Head of Department at the Townsville State High School and has been teaching for over fifteen years. She has won numerous awards, including the Prime Minister’s Secondary Science Teaching Prize, that have recognised her contribution to STEM education. She is also the co-founder of the Townsville STEM Hub. Sarah explained her passion for teaching STEM, “I really see STEM as a way of thinking and doing, it’s not a set of subjects. Any student or any person in particular, that has STEM skills is able to approach any problem, regardless of what that problem is, because it gives you a range of skills to be able to approach that problem and move forward with it.” Sarah also spoke about the importance of collaborating with others on a particular problem or project and reflected that, “you’re part of that puzzle rather than the only solver of that particular issue.”

STEM is a verb, not a noun. It’s a way of doing.

Being “authentic and passionate” about teaching STEM are critical to engaging students. Sarah explained, “a lot of teachers are very good at this. It enables a young person to be able to see that what you’re conveying is something that you believe in.” Sarah also emphasised the importance of providing students some autonomy in their STEM inquiry, “I see that STEM should be linked to a project or a problem. I would prefer that project or problem be of student choice. Now it could be around a topic that you choose, but then the student picks what they’re interested in. Student agency and student choice will elevate the level of engagement, but also the transparency and uptake skills because it’s something they want to do, and they’re interested in.” “STEM is a verb, not a noun. It’s a way of doing.” FEB/MAR 2021


Sarah Fletcher Sarah Fletcher, from the Australian Capital Territory, is a specialist STEM teacher and a recent recipient of the Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching, described as the “Oscars of Science.” Initially, Sarah studied evolutionary genetics at university but a request by her mother who was a teacher, changed the trajectory of her future career. Sarah said, “my mother was a teacher and asked me to speak to her year one or two class. Their enthusiasm and just their ideas were so infectious that I went on to do my Bachelor of Education and I have not regretted a second of it.” She considers a challenge for STEM, particularly in higher education, is that some of the curiosity and excitement around genuine inquiry and discovery may be removed through a more forced, generic approach to the pedagogy. “So, I guess my challenge to college, high school, university teachers and lecturers is to make sure that they keep that genuine inquiry. That’s where that curiosity, that thirst and that excitement comes is when people are allowed to look into something that they’re passionate about.”


As she further explains, “look, all of the research says that it’s only when kids have an emotional attachment to what they’re learning, that’s when it sticks. So, create that situation where they’re using their new understandings to solve authentic problems, and yes, that’s challenging. Yes, you see them stumble, but those challenges bring such a greater excitement.”

Sharon Melamed

“In my classroom, we said there’s no such thing as failure. We just need to ask the different questions.”

Sharon Melamed is an awardwinning entrepreneur and founder of Matchboard, a business technology platform that simplifies the way companies find new suppliers and suppliers find new companies. Sharon’s journey toward becoming a business technology entrepreneur is a little unusual in that Sharon initially studied foreign languages for a Bachelor of Arts Degree. What advice does Sharon have for students? “My first piece of advice would be just because you didn’t do computer science as a subject, doesn’t mean you should close yourself off to the exciting possibilities of technology. Further, “expose yourself as much as you can to this world, do some reading, research exciting technology developments and try to get into this world a little bit to see what it’s all about and what resonates with you.”


Sonia Stitt Sonia Stitt is a primary school Digital Technologies teacher with the Queensland Department of Education. When asked about how she uses targeted pedagogy and strategic learning environments to encourage students, particularly girls, to become involved in STEM, Sonia emphasised the importance of decorating the learning environment in “geek chic,” such as computers, circuit boards, perhaps even a Yoda or a Tardis. Sonia explained, “what the research has said is that girls don’t like to go into an environment like that, if it’s not very inviting for them. If it’s more inviting and accommodating to girls’ interests, they’re more likely to enter into it and stay in it. Whereas boys will go into a room if the subject is interesting. So, our learning environment plays a role with whether the girls will enter in and maintain their participation within that space.” The abstract of Sonia’s research article about girls in engineering can be found on page 4.

Susan Webb Sue Webb is the process portfolio manager at DDLS, Australia’s largest provider of corporate IT and process training. Sue explained that she has worked in the IT industry for many years and first started her career as an application trainer in the midnineties. Since that time, Sue completed a degree in computer science, graduated with first class honors and went on to study for her PhD but then found that, “my passion was very much helping other people to be more productive with computers. I’m not your typical geek.” The lack of female role models within the IT industry was highlighted by Sue as being a challenge to increasing the numbers of women within IT. Sue reflected more broadly about her work as a mentor and efforts to increase diversity within the IT sector. “We want to increase the gender diversity but not just gender. I think that diversity is lacking across the board. We don’t have a lot of indigenous representation, for instance. It’s been a challenge for a long time. I’ve been actively working in this area for 17-18 years and the numbers haven’t gotten much better, even though there has been a lot of programs to try and improve those things.”


Sue spoke of the need for a cultural shift within the IT sector and the importance of changing perceptions around the variety of careers that are possible and what a career in IT can actually look like. Sue said, “you can have a very fulfilling career in technology without ever having to write a piece of code. It’s showing that it is actually a caring profession, it can very much help people. If you look at the advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence and all the work that’s happening, there’s opportunities to help people and improve their lives.” FEB/MAR 2021


Gry Stene

Gry Stene is founder of Steam Engine Global. In an interview with STEM Punks, Gry explained, “Steam Engine Global is a social enterprise that aims to bridge the gap and create career pathways for those that are underrepresented.” Gry completed her computer science degree during the 1980’s and over the past thirty years has worked for software companies. She observed, “so many times we’ve gone in and made a program or a system to solve a problem, but we haven’t actually checked who’s got the problem and we don’t actually know who’s going to be using it. It’s all good intent, and it’s innovative and good except it’s solving the wrong problem.”

The more diverse and inclusive teams make better business sense and create better products Gry is passionate about increasing diversity within the industry to help address this issue, “It makes business sense,” observed Gry. She would like to see more people attracted into the industry from arts, customer service and problem solvers, whose differing professional backgrounds would contribute different perspectives and approaches. “I think there’s been too much focus on just coding. We actually need designers, people who can talk the language who can bring people onboard.” Gry also emphasised the importance of creating an inclusive environment where people, including women, from diverse cultural backgrounds are encouraged to work and contribute their experiences and viewpoints. “I’ve always looked to get people from at least different cultural backgrounds and particularly employed girls into teams.” said Gry. It’s not surprising then, that several years ago, Gry founded Steam Engine Global. Her purpose is to, “transition people who wouldn’t normally find their pathway into tech roles because it’s proven fact that the more diverse and inclusive teams make better business sense and create better products.” Gry’s organisation is working with school programs to introduce design thinking and with businesses to create placement programs and apprenticeships. “Then we work with businesses themselves to help them build diversity and inclusion to assess where they’re at, so that they can attract more of this brand new talent that we’re bringing in.”


Megan Hayes STEM teacher Megan Hayes, from Mudgeeraba Creek State School, has such passion, expertise and commitment to the teaching of STEM, that she was recognised in 2019 and 2020, by being awarded a Highly Commended Certificate at the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science in Canberra. Megan recalled that in the early days of her STEM program, one of the biggest hurdles was that students wanted their designs to be perfect the first time. Coming into the sixth year, Megan said, “They’re so familiar with the design thinking process, that the group work that happens, if something doesn’t work, I see other groups of children coming in and asking if they have tried this or that there is another way. It is central to everything that we do that they’re allowed to go back and redo the design drawings and I encourage them to do that. In the reflect stage, if something completely failed, I’d say, well, you’re not failing, you’ve learned so much from it. They’re very comfortable with that now. In the reflection stage of their work, students actually say this didn’t work but if I did it more, I would do this. To me, that’s the crux of what we’re on about in STEM.”

Wei Shin Lai When Dr Wei Shin Lai was working as a medical doctor, she would take calls from patients late at night which would keep her awake, “I was having trouble getting back to sleep. I tried headphones but they’re very bulky and you can’t sleep on your side. Then I tried earbuds and that didn’t work either. My husband suggested that maybe I could put the headphones inside something else that can stay on my head. “We ended up getting some speakers and I thought of sewing them inside a soft headband.” She recounted how she and her husband soldered and hand sewed the first five hundred ‘sleep phones’ on their own while also working their full-time jobs. After five years of doing this, they resigned from their careers to work full-time on their business. Since the start of their home-grown business, they had progressed to contract manufacturing and now use outsourced manufacturing. Almost thirteen years later, ‘sleep phones’ has won numerous awards for design and manufacture.


What advice would she give to the next generation of young innovators? “I think if you’re good at something, just do it. Don’t be afraid and don’t be held back. You might encounter people who tell you, you’re just a girl or something. It doesn’t matter. Use that to your advantage. In fact, because I am a woman, I am able to speak on behalf of other women, in fields where usually men dominate, and they don’t expect that. So, you can really leverage that and get yourself out there and take advantage of any programs that are there for women and girls to showcase your products and get your message out. If your message is really true to your heart, it’s something that you strongly believe in, that will be reflected in everything that you say. That’s going to resonate with people and you’re going to be successful with that.” For more go to: www.sleepphones.com

FEB/MAR 2021


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