Gippslandia - Issue 8 - STEM Sisters Project.

Sisters are doin’ it for themselves.

Heard of STEM before? When I was at school, the acronym never passed my eyes, as I never really found myself quite on track to pursue Science, Technology, Engineering or Maths as a career (sorry Dad!). However, meeting the STEM Sisters has opened my eyes about these fields and their growing shift to embrace women in the workforce. Women only make up 16% of Australia’s total STEM workforce—and that’s a problem. The Gippsland LLENS (Local Learning and Employment Network) has stepped up with the STEM Sisters, an initiative that provides an opportunity for girls to explore STEM careers in our region.

Launched at the beginning of 2018, the program initially had 45 places available to local girls, but due to popular demand they’ve actually accepted 70 year 10 students. It’s become a resource of information, support and mentorship. The STEM Sisters promote confidence in young women, build positive relationships and expose the possibilities of STEM careers. Why is this so important, especially here in Gippsland? Because locally, similar to me in high school, girls still have little knowledge about STEM.

The STEM Sisters really get into the nitty-gritty of what this path offers, exploring engineering at our power plants, medical and scientific research centres, tech infrastructure and the potential of coding. The positions can involve donning high-vis clothing and being out in the field or developing a technology strategy in an office. STEM isn’t limiting and is a future-focused industry addressing pressing topics including environmental sustainability and technological growth. It’s inspiring to hearing how the program is helping to shift attitudes that STEM careers are ‘dull’, ‘dry’ and a ‘boys club’

From the introduction STEM Sisters has given me, I wish I had more of an opportunity to consider STEM-related fields.

Sarah Rolands, Jalen Potter and Claire Giles are year 10 Students from Warragul Regional College who are loving being a ‘STEM sister’. They are part of the first group that’ll get girls in Gippsland familiar with this underrated industry for females. Eager to learn what had motivated the girls to join, I got in touch with them.

How has this program helped you?
SARAH: I’ve been doing woodwork and oxy-fuel welding and I’m the only girl in the class. The program has helped me feel inspired and more confident to go into a STEM career.

CLAIRE: I’ve always been interested in science and math, and would love to be a research scientist in a medical field, but I’m keeping my options open. This program has helped spark a passion in me and to explore options that I didn’t know existed.

JALEN: I’ve been really unsure what I want to do [after high school]. I’ve always been arts and music focused, but have lost a bit of passion. When I heard about the STEM Sisters it was something different and exciting. I wanted to try the different opportunities made available [through the program].

Why is the project important, especially to girls in Gippsland?
SARAH: It’s encouraging and promotes young girls getting involved. We were able to connect and talk to the ambassadors, hearing their [career] pathways. Year 10 is also a good age for the program because you’re mature enough to do all the activities and you have time to see what you like before picking VCE subjects.

CLAIRE: It’s a really good opportunity to learn about different experiences. For us, young women deciding what subjects or uni courses to do, it helps us decide what we might be most interested in. You get to meet women in the industry, and I did work experience with the Baw Baw Shire Council Officers, so you get some hands-on opportunities too.

What issues are STEM Sisters tackling? How are they succeeding?
SARAH: There aren’t many women in STEM careers. It’s important to have companies that have an equal amount of males and females for a healthy work culture.

CLAIRE: It shows that as women it’s okay to go into these male-dominated fields, and, hopefully, it will create less imbalance.

JALEN: It creates a positive support system where we can rely on the ambassadors and other students, as they can relate to you and what you’re trying to get out of the program.

What would you want to tell future year 10 girls who could be part of the program in the coming years?
CLAIRE: Take the opportunity! It’s opened so many doors and it really opens your mind. It gives you confidence knowing you’re working toward something without there being pressure.

Gippslandia - Issue 8 - STEM Sisters Project.

The program is supported by that STEM Sisters Ambassadors, a group of 50 women working in a wide range of STEM careers. Kathleen Kent, Jessie Ablett and Debbie Stennings share their experiences of being in a STEM industry and an ambassador for this project. By participating in STEM sisters, they are part of the process in getting more girls considering and even pursuing a career in these fields.

What is your career background and why did you choose to be a STEM Sister Ambassador?
KATHLEEN: I’m a Maintenance and Optimisation Engineer at Gippsland Water. Baw Baw LLEN reached out to us. I put my hand up because I wanted to offer my experience in the industry and show girls the potential careers in STEM and the variety of jobs in Gippsland.

JESSIE: I work as an Environmental Sustainability Officer for the Baw Baw Shire Council. I wanted to be an ambassador as I thought it was a good opportunity to engage with younger females of Gippsland, and I wanted to share my experiences and some helpful tips along the way.

DEBBIE: I’m based at AGL’s Loy Yang Power Station as a Unit Attendant. The STEM Sister project launched here at the power station last year. I decided to become an ambassador because I wanted to share my story and assure girls you don’t need a traditional path to a career and that there’s no barrier to change.

Why is the project important, especially to girls in Gippsland?
KATHLEEN: I didn’t have opportunities like this in high school and didn’t know what was out there, and that creates limitations. This program breaks those limitations for young girls.

JESSIE: It’s not just about STEM, but personal development too. I want them to know not to put pressure on yourself to succeed in a certain time. That you can still enjoy your youth while striving toward your goals.

What are the issues that STEM Sisters is tackling, and how are they succeeding?
KATHLEEN: STEM is considered as a ‘male-dominated’ field, this program is helping with hopefully creating a good balance in the workforce. In recent years there has been an increase of females in technical roles such as mine and the feedback (from men) is that it has brought a healthier culture into the workplace.

JESSIE: These girls don’t know much about the industry and are put off by the representation of STEM, but they’re inspired and eager to learn. There is a lack of confidence in entering these male-dominated fields, and this program is to help break barriers and boost confidence.

DEBBIE: It’s great to see local girls wanting to come [to these industries] and to share with them. When they came in I showed them the control room and said I do what Homer Simpson does. I think they really liked that reference and this makes the industry more relevant to what they know.

Even though you’re assisting others as a STEM Sister Ambassador, how has this program helped you?
KATHLEEN: The role has definitely had a mutual benefit. It has helped my personal development as well as I’ve never been a mentor before. It’s not only boosting their confidence, but mine too.

JESSIE: I’m new to mentoring so it’s been exciting and challenging to engage with the girls. It helps grow your skills.

The saying “If you can see it, you can be it!” resonates because it’s only through exposure of what’s out that there that you’ll really know what you can truly achieve. This mantra echoes in the attitude toward the program; that it’s there to showcase and promote working in the industry, without the pressures or expectations of having to fully commit to a STEM career path. Just nine months in and the program has only fuelled positivity from both students and ambassadors alike. Hopefully, the STEM Sisters is planting roots that will continue to grow and blossom in coming years, making our region an even more diverse place.

For more information about the STEM Sisters Project visit: llen.org.au/news/gippsland-llens-launch-stem-sisters/ or facebook.com/stemsistersproject/

Gippslandia - Issue 8 - STEM Sisters Project.

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