The University of Wollongong has made history with three recipients of the prestigious Google Women Techmakers Scholars Program. These students represented the university on an all expenses paid trip in South Korea to discuss how to improve female leadership in tech fields.
Two of the recipients of the award, namely Rhiannon and Alanna, currently work as STEM ambassadors for UOW. UOW’s STEM ambassador program is unique and now even google is recognising this program for its important contribution to promoting women in STEM.
Below is an excerpt from Alanna’s application for the Google Women Techmakers Scholars Program for anyone who is looking for tips on how to apply:
Why I chose to pursue my career path
I initially chose to do electrical engineering as I wanted to improve people’s lives through developing new technologies, I was inspired to do electrical engineering as my dad and brother both did this degree and as a girl I wanted to prove that I was just as smart as any boy and could do just as well as they did. As I progressed through my degree I learnt more about the how programming can be useful in developing new technologies and I was inspired to develop assistive technologies, hence I made a dementia care fall assist wrist band. After completing an internship at Cochlear I became even more excited about the possibility of using programming to improve people’s lives by developing technologies that assist deaf people to hear.
The challenges related to being a woman in STEM have been
As a woman in engineering I have encountered times of self-doubt during my studies as an undergraduate student, where I have looked around me and viewed little to no female students, and as a result I felt very out of place. However, I really enjoyed the challenging work that the degree provided and my grades also demonstrated that I was good at it, so I persevered through the degree.
However, once I entered the work force it was a whole other story… I scored an amazing job working as an ABB graduate engineer where I was offered the exciting opportunity to travel around Australia and the world. At first I didn’t feel particularly isolated based on my gender, it was more based on my age, as the average employee at ABB was a 40 year old white male. Despite this, there was a high percentage of women working at ABB, mainly due to a lot of secretarial work that needed to be completed in the office. However, I grew very bored with the office work as I often felt like I was doing all the secretarial work so I looked for other opportunities, preferably relating to programming. I realised that my best chance of interesting work was to work in programming PLC’s for large scale control systems. The only downside was all the real programming work happened on site, so I had to become accustomed to a brand new world of engineering.
On site, I was one of two female engineers out of fifty within the ABB site team. While I found the work challenging and interesting, I found the lifestyle combined with the lack of female support and role models to be unbearable, so after two years of site work I eventually quit.
I am passionate about promoting women in STEM
Earlier this year I was involved in the UOW STEM camp for girls, this camp involved running various STEM related activities to encourage 55 girls from over 20 different high schools, aged 14-17 to choose a career in STEM. I participated in the camp as both a group leader and mentor with individual responsibility for four girls. I also taught some STEM activities where I discussed my research and showed how programming and electronics can be used in humanitarian projects to report floods in Jakarta and prevent unnecessary deaths or injuries.
I currently work as a STEM Ambassador for the university where I run STEM activities for students in primary and high school. These activities include making bristle bots or moving tooth brush robots, running 3D printing workshops using tinkerCAD, building electronic circuits with a raspberry pie. I have also helped to develop workshops on making an electronic piano using an Arduino, making sandwiches by writing pseudo code and I have plans to teach students about the philosophers round table threading problem with ramen and learning how to do bubble sorts through partner dancing.
In addition to this, I am an executive of the women in STEM society and as a postgraduate I have used my network to encourage my peers to return to the university to discuss their experiences working as women in STEM. I have run a seminar on unconscious bias in the workplace and plan to run another seminar on return to work mums as I think these are important topics that most people don’t wish to tackle. I also run extra coding workshops within the society aimed at people who have never coded before but want to learn. I have also created a local IEEE WIE affinity group that I am the chair of and I regularly update my blog on working as a woman in tech.
If I had the resources of a company like Google
I genuinely believe the only reason I struggled as an engineer was due to lack of numbers of technically minded women in the work place. This means increasing the number of women enrolling in STEM careers, by increasing funding for STEM high school outreach activities specifically aimed at girls. It means promoting unconscious bias training for men, using more immersive strategies such as the Devika Equal Reality virtual reality simulator and to provide extra support for women persevering in the workplace. The last but most important change, requires a complete culture shift, where STEM careers aren’t considered a male career but simply a challenging and interesting career. This is a much bigger challenge, however a company like google would be better equipped to change this. The solution is simple, remove gendered marketing for children.