The key to engaging young people – particularly girls – in STEM is making it relevant, according to the inaugural Businesswoman of the Year at last year’s Moreton Bay Region Business Excellence and Innovation Awards.
Co-founder of world-leading STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education program STEM Punks Fiona Holmstrom says breaking down stereotypes and encouraging mentors will open up a world of opportunity for young people.
“The key is relevance, making STEM relevant to girls, because it’s not all about being in lab coats or sitting in front of a computer for 12 hours a day,” she says.
“So whatever children are into, make STEM about that – whether it’s augmented reality or virtual dress-making.
“It’s also important to make it accessible, to make STEM available and visible for children to see the possibilities and where a career in STEM can take them.
“You might take them through a workshop and at the end you can say ‘you’ve just solved a problem – that’s engineering’.”
Fiona says engaging the next generation of STEM gurus is a big opportunity, with fields such as robotics making a difference in daily life.
“There’s a lot of jobs in robotics. These days you can operate an automated robot from thousands of kilometres away – the Rover on the moon has robotics.
“There’s everyday practical applications, like in restaurants robots come and serve your meals at your table.
“Robotics is used in car manufacturing, there’s applications in space and in agriculture as well, with automated drones flying around.
“It’s even used in tourism and surf lifesavers use drones in their patrols.”
Educating young people about what STEM is and what STEM can do for them is also important, Fiona says.
“Role models are vital, particularly for young girls.
“As (Children’s Defense Fund founder) Marian Edelman said, “you can’t be what you can’t see’ and girls are tied to that more so than boys.
“Quite a lot of the time people who are mentors are doing it on a voluntary basis – the more people we have like that, the better off everyone will be.”
Fiona is passionate about making STEM accessible to students in regional and rural areas, which are often left behind by a lack of funding and resources.
“People in a lower socioeconomic demographic and in rural areas often don’t have the shiny ‘toys’ that people in cities and higher socioeconomic areas have.
“We believe STEM is for everyone - everyone deserves those opportunities.”
The Moreton Bay Business and Innovation Awards are returning in 2022, with an earlier start date and additional categories for businesses and individuals to celebrate their achievements.
The awards are free to enter and nominations open on May 16 at 9am. They close on July 17 at 11.59pm.
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