Women in STEM related fields are already under-represented, making up fewer than 1 in 10 graduates, and the picture only gets worse for Indigenous Australian women. Federation University are hoping to create a new path, with a series of one-day workshops aimed at encouraging year 7 and 8 girls to consider pursuing senior school study in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics subjects.
They’re aimed at “empowering girls to stay in school and retain interest in STEM fields,” says Fed Uni Business Development Manager, Geraldine Lewis, with Indigenous mentors from around the country coming to share their experiences in August. It’s about introducing them “to people that are just like the girls, who’ve come from country and regional Australia, and been successful.” “Often young Indigenous people don’t feel they get the same opportunities,” said Ms Lewis. “Here we can demonstrate there are brilliant women who started in the same place- so why can’t you be brilliant? Be a leader, a scientist?” One such brilliant woman who has come on board as a mentor is primatologist, and proud Darug woman, Cassandra Rowe.
“It’s a bit of an honour, being asked,” said Ms Rowe. Having a career that’s spanned continents, inspired by a simple stroll to the chimp enclosure at the zoo at the ripe old age of six, she’s excited to share her stories. “Instead of just saying, you can study this, it’s sharing the situations you never thought you’d find yourself in.” Like a zoo where 9 lions have gotten out of their enclosure and it’s up to you to fix it, for one. She wants to show the variety of “weird and wonderful careers out there,” and highlight that mentors are all around. “It’s so important… and often you don’t even realise you have those people in your life.”
“We don’t see these opportunities very often,” said Ms Lewis, funding being a big challenge. “If we can convert even 20% of the girls to pursuing a long-term career that would make a difference in their life...”