The University of Wollongong (UOW) last week (Wednesday 12 October) welcomed a group of young women who are members of the Multicultural Communities Council of Illawarra (MCCI) Lead the Way program for a day of hands-on workshops and conversations on technology, entrepreneurship and career paths for young women in STEM.

iAccelerate, UOW Makerspace, Future Students STEM team and female STEM researchers contributed to showcasing available opportunities within and supported by UOW.

Lead the Way is a youth leadership initiative for young women from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds which supports the next generation of community leaders. The program supports young women to develop skills to navigate employment and to connect them with mentoring and role models for ongoing learning and personal growth.

Bec Collins, a Youth Development Worker with MCCI, said the day demonstrated that there are many pathways to tertiary education and lots of ways to learn.

“We brought the young women here today to break down the perceptions that a university education and STEM isn’t for them. They had the opportunity to experience some hands-on, practical and fun applications of STEM and realise that University isn’t just about having your head in a book.”

Dr Lihong Su, from the UOW School of Mechanical, Materials, Mechatronics and Biomedical Engineering, said the day was designed to highlight the impact of advances in science and technology to young women, beginning with a hands-on workshop in the UOW Makerspace where students created jewellery from recycled plastics.

“During the workshop students designed and fabricated jewellery pieces using recycled plastics and laser cutting technology,” Dr Su said.

“The workshop showed that by understanding the science of thermoplastics, coupled with creativity and making use of computer design and modern manufacturing techniques we can make something fun and fashionable.

“All of the steps were easy to understand – this is how we increase the girls’ interest, engagement and confidence in pursuing a future in STEM.”

Dr Tamantha Stutchbury, Director of iAccelerate, said, “The Lead the Way program is a great way to showcase many opportunities, including entrepreneurialism. iAccelerate is committed to equity and diversity, and we value this opportunity to spend time with these future leaders.

“We want everyone have the opportunity to invent, share and change the world.”

During the afternoon, students participated in a Q&A session discussing careers in STEM with prominent women science and engineering researchers who shared their varied career paths and experiences and offered insights into the different, and sometimes unexpected, pathways to a tertiary education.

Grace Kennedy, Research Fellow in Systems Engineering, shared, “Never be afraid to try – you don’t know where something may go if you just give it a shot. I got my start by writing to engineering firms, not knowing if they’d write back.

This program aligns with UOWs commitment to the UN Sustainable Developments Goals, specifically, 4 (Quality Education), 5 (Gender Equality) and 10 (Reduced Inequalities).

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