Written by Mary Lieu on the 28th of October, 2016
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With the ongoing discussion on how we can encourage more of our youth, and especially young women, to study STEM subjects, an increasing number of companies have been running education and participation programs.
Meet Robogals. They’re on a mission to “increase female participation in STEM through the application of fun and educational initiatives for girls in both primary and secondary school.”
With ANZ as a proud supporter, they’ve run multiple workshops in Melbourne in the past year. Luckily for us, ANZ and Robogals’ Monash chapter brought their Kids Robotics workshop to Sydney for Spark Festival. Of course, we had to be there! Big thanks to SheStarts Advisor Carina Parisella for inviting us to the workshop – we spent an incredible morning watching future engineers at play.
“If they do more of these it can grow your imagination, and if you grow your imagination in the future, it will make the world a better and safer place!” – Mini Engineer
Robogals is an international, student-run, not-for-profit organisation founded by five University of Melbourne students in 2008, including Marita Cheng. Sing Le, CTO of Robogals Global & Training Manager at Robogals Monash, is so passionate about the impact the workshops have, he has volunteered over 100 hours for Robogals in 18 months.
“It’s really just teaching the kids about programming and seeing their face light up when they get it to work, because this feedback is immediate. When you see their face smile, you smile as well. And then getting girls interested in engineering is the bonus on top of what I do this for” Sing said.
Carina Parisella is a strong supporter of Robogals and their work, which targets primary to secondary school students. She said it’s important to encourage interest in STEM subjects early on, to help young kids think about their careers in a different way.
“I’m really passionate about what we can do to help prepare our kids, the next generation of future leaders, get ready for a world where technology and innovation is at the cornerstone of everything we do.”
The significance of role models in driving female participation in engineering and technology is well understood by Robogals, who actively address that in the workshops they run. Their website states: “Introducing female engineering students to girls at a young age also provides visibility to female role models, of which there is a significant deficit in the STEM field.”
For Kellen Huang, Schools Manager at Robogals Monash, her interest in Robogals was first piqued when she read an article on Robogals co-founder Marita Cheng. When Kellen saw that Monash was starting a chapter, she jumped on the opportunity immediately, eager to get involved.
“The best thing is showing them what engineering can do. If you think about the world around us, everything that has been created involved an engineer. It’s not just things like your phone or laptops! You can use tech in so many ways; you can apply it to basically anything, which I think is really cool!
“I really enjoy engineering. I love what I’m doing and I just want to show other kids that they can love this too.”
“I want to be an engineer that builds robots, because in the future robots are going to be one of the only jobs you can have because robots are going to take over the future” – Mini Engineer
We spoke to a number of parents at the Kids Robotics workshop, who told us that this initiative was a great way to support and encourage their children’s interest in engineering outside of school.
“Important for me was about exposing them to what’s possible in the world. Coding is about how you can control an element or a device to do something and achieve an outcome. So it’s about getting them to think differently and get that their learning skills are going to be different as well” said one father.
“This is a tool as well as a mindset; it’s the visual aspect of creativity.”
When we asked Alexia Velev, Marketing Manager at Robogals Monash, why she became involved with the organisation, she told us about her passion for education and why engagement is an important tool for learning and building confidence.
“Being proactive and asking the kids questions like ‘What could be the solution to this issue?’ when they’re asking why their robot isn’t moving like they want it to, stimulates critical thinking, which is so important” Alexia said.
“There’s that perception that maths and science is really difficult when you get to high school. But when you really get into it and you try hard, it’s definitely doable, anything is doable. So you have to show kids at a young age that anything is possible…they can make that robot move!”
Carina agreed and said workshops like these help kids to think about their futures and careers in a different way.
“When we’re talking about STEM, we talk about science, technology, engineering and maths, and it’s not really just about those four disciplines. It’s how they connect and how we can be creative, think outside the box and use critical thinking to then change the world.”
In Beyonce’s words, who run the world? Robogals*.