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Tuesday, November 24, 2020

YoWIEs unite in Canberra

Last week, 56 high school-aged girls took to UNSW Canberra (ADFA) for the annual Young Women in Engineering (YoWIE) three-day workshop, held from Wednesday 16 to Friday 18 January.

The workshop, which has been running since January 2017, sees participants in years nine and 10 engage in a wide range of engineering activities, from dismantling (then reassembling) engines to satellite design and robotics.

With 56 participants from around Australia, though most are from Canberra, this year’s workshop saw the highest number of students since the program began. Some participants from the inaugural workshop in 2017, dubbed “super YoWIEs”, were invited back this year to lead demonstrations for the group.

Event organiser, Associate Professor Kathryn Kasmarik, said the goal of the YoWIE program is to “give the girls a flavour of engineering at university level and exposure to the sorts of skills that engineers and scientists need to do their jobs”.

“In the next year or two, these girls will make vital decisions about which subjects to study, and it can have a major impact on their future. We want to show them the opportunities they could have if they follow the STEM path.

“Women engineers offer a different perspective on complex problems. One study showed that female students found sustainable solutions more important than male students. To tackle difficult problems of this and future generations, we must learn to engineer sustainable solutions to the world’s problems. Drawing on our whole talent pool, both men and women, is important for engineering excellence. There are lots of exciting opportunities for YoWIEs.”

The workshops take a “whole of school” approach, with lecturers, senior lecturers, professors and PhD students from all areas of engineering at the University.

“There’s been heaps of support for career progression here [at UNSW], and this is just one example of that,” Dr Kasmarik said.

Just 25% of Australia’s engineers are women, and Dr Kasmarik said the YoWIE program aims to show girls there is a place for them in STEM subjects after high school.

“Girls want to know there is a peer group for them, so creating that for them now … makes it a bit more attractive.”

Just how attractive the YoWIE program has made studying STEM subjects will be made clear when the first round of YoWIE participants reach university-age in 2020.

“We won’t know until next year,” said Dr Kasmarik. “If they enrol into engineering in any university, that means we’ve done our job.

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Ian Cubitts
Ian Cubitts