Engineering into a rising female-driven generation

Lecquia Chang, Year 12


Throughout my time at Loreto, I have always seen maths and science as crucial disciplines in our world, especially for young women. And throughout these past few months in Year 12, I have come to realise my growing passion to pursue these fields after high school. There is still a stigma surrounding STEM particularly around girls. Perhaps it’s deemed not a strength of ours, too ‘hands-on’ or too intimidating because it has traditionally been a male-dominated field. With our rapidly modernising world, there is a growing demand for young engineers to participate in the development of new innovative technologies that will assist in overcoming many existing issues such as developing biodegradable plastics, biotechnology/medical devices (e.g. bionic limbs) and solar powered vehicles.


I know I have already spoken about the necessity to motivate girls to participate in STEM subjects in my previous articles, but I just thought it was necessary to emphasise my points with a few new statistics that I recently came across to provide a clearer glimpse of Australia’s current STEM landscape. According to a 2018 ABC article I came across earlier this year (Push for women to help solve engineer shortage threatening future infrastructure projects, 2018: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-06-11/engineer-shortage-threatening-australian-infrastructure-projects/9850300), there is a severe shortage of Australian-born engineers with 57% engineers being migrants and only 13% being women altogether. This decline in Australian students studying in STEM has resulted in Australia being ranked 23rd on the World Economic Forum innovation index!


However, it is possible for this result to be reversed and that stems from the promotion of STEM at schools such as Loreto. In another ABC news article I came across earlier this month (Easy HSC subjects growing, one in four girls no longer doing maths, 2018: https://www.smh.com.au/education/easy-hsc-subjects-growing-one-in-four-girls-no-longer-doing-maths-20180912-p5038s.html), new statistics from the Mathematics Education Research Journal revealed that 1 in 4 girls are not taking any maths subjects in contrast to 1 in 10 boys. This large contrast is definitely a problem that requires schools like Loreto to provide greater encouragement and awareness of the potentials of maths, science and engineering that are in high demand in the work force. By doing this, girls like ourselves, can have a more positive attitude surrounding maths, the sciences, Engineering Studies and IST/IPT rather than labelling these subjects to only having higher participation in schools for boys or coeducation schools.


I believe that in order for Loreto Normanhurst to move forward, there is a need for greater promotion in subjects such as Maths, Physics, Information Software Technology/Information Processing Technology and Engineering studies because young women in STEM have the potential to solve some of our world’s current global issues through our creativity and passion to make positive change. In Europe, 35% of engineers are female, and in Iran more than 50% of engineers are women and 70% of all STEM graduates are women (Chris Nielson, President of Engineers Australia’s Queensland Division, https://www.engineersaustralia.org.au/News/diversity-engineering-12-women-not-enough). Therefore, there is no reason why we cannot strive to embolden more female engineers, mathematicians, scientists and global innovators. We women have already successfully tackled so many hurdles during the past century in overcoming gender inequalities, and now it is time for us to advocate gender diversity in the STEM field that is already pursued by successful female engineers and scientists today.


Check out the list below of inspiring female STEM leaders in Australia and snapshots of how they are changing the face of society and the environment:

Marita Cheng



Marita was the Young Australian of the Year in 2012. She is the founder and CEO of Aubot that constructs a telepresence robot, Teleport, for kids with cancer in hospital that provides a virtual-reality school experience. Teleport is also used to assist people with a disability to attend work, and monitors and socialises with elderly people.


Reference: http://www.maritacheng.com/bio.html



Dr Michelle Simmons (2018 Australian of the Year)



Professor Simmons directs the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology at UNSW. In January 2018, she was named Australian of the Year for her ambitious and inspiring pioneering research into quantum computing. Professor Simmons’ research group developed the world’s first single-atom transistor and the narrowest conducting silicon wires only four atoms wide and one atom high! These materials are the foundations of our everyday technology i.e. our phones, laptops, calculators, microwaves etc.


Reference: https://newsroom.unsw.edu.au/news/science-tech/unsw-scientist-michelle-simmons-australian-year



Professor Veena Sahajwalla


Professor Veena Sahajwalla directs the Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology at UNSW. She has dedicated her research into revolutionising the recycling of toxic and complex materials via smarter and low cost alternatives. She aims to promote the collaboration of engineers, researchers and scientists to ensure that scientific advances in sustainable materials and processes are readily available to achieve commercially viable environmental solutions such as electronic wastes in landfills.


Reference: https://research.unsw.edu.au/people/scientia-professor-veena-sahajwalla



Professor Emma Johnston


Professor Emma Johnston has undertaken and led many extensive research projects into the ecology of human impacts on marine systems such as the Great Barrier Reef by correlating the diverse fields of ecology, microbiology and ecotoxicology. Her investigations have played a crucial part in recommending monitoring and management procedures to government bodies and organisations in protecting marine ecosystems.

Reference: https://www.bees.unsw.edu.au/emma-johnston



Professor Fariba Dehghani


Professor Fariba Dehghani is leads a multidisciplinary bioengineering research team at Sydney University as she works alongside engineers, scientists, clinicians and molecular biologists. Her research is composed of creating new technologies for nutritional food products and biomaterials that focuses on tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. Potential implications would involve the development of sustainable and cost/energy efficient processes for manufacturing bio-products and reduce organic solvent consumption.


Reference: https://sydney.edu.au/engineering/people/fariba.dehghani.php



Dr Amy Heffernan



Dr Amy Heffernan is an analytical chemist whose research closely focuses on environmental and health monitoring of common chemicals such as pesticides, plasticisers and flame retardants in Australia. As a result, her research is incredibly vital in informing national policies that can monitor the use of common chemicals in society and the environment.


Reference: https://scienceandtechnologyaustralia.org.au/profile/dr-amy-heffernan/



Dr Siobhan Schabrun


Dr Siobhan Schabrun specialises in neuroscience and her research comprises of developing new schemes that would enhance the human learning capacity in the near future. She is currently looking into advanced methods that would ensure quicker recovering following injuries or illnesses, improved training strategies for athletes, and maintaining mental function in old age. Dr Schabrun’s research hold great potential for people suffering from chronic musculoskeletal pain that is often associated with tissue tears and pains over a period of time from consistent human activity.


Reference: https://scienceandtechnologyaustralia.org.au/profile/dr-siobhan-schabrun/

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