University of Western Australia: UWA engineering students take STEM message to the Pilbara

Hannah Bygrave was a year 12 student at Karratha Senior High School when she took part in a workshop held by The University of Western Australia outreach programs Aspire UWA and Girls in Engineering last year.

She credits that school visit and the time spent talking to the student ambassadors as a reason she continued to study STEM beyond high school, and last week Hannah had the opportunity to give back.

The first year of Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) and Bachelor of Science (majoring in Electrical and Electronic Engineering and Physics) undergrad was one of a number of UWA students who visited high school students in Karratha and Roebourne.

The young ambassadors delivered in-school workshops aimed at increasing student awareness of university opportunities and to encourage them to consider STEM career pathways.

According to the Australian Academy of Science, only 16 per cent of Australia’s STEM-skilled workforce are women, compared to the broader Australian workforce with close to 50 per cent female participation.

Girls in Engineering Coordinator Katie Douglas believes providing role models at a young age is crucial in helping to address the gender imbalance in STEM fields.

“Aspire UWA has been touring the Pilbara since 2009 with the Girls in Engineering program joining the regional tour in recent years,” Ms Douglas said.

“The joint initiative between the Student Equity programs works toward addressing some of the barriers regional students face, one of which is ensuring all students have access to similar opportunities and experiences across all of Western Australia.

“Research shows a key barrier for women in STEM is the lack of role models, at every stage of their career journey. On this tour we took five Girls in Engineering student ambassadors with us, who were able to share their experience of what university is like with the students in the classroom.

“In the workshops students learn about the different types of engineering specialisations available and spend time exploring how their interests and hobbies can align with university courses.”

While in Karratha, the UWA students also experienced working in the Pilbara region with a tour of Rio Tinto’s Rail Division and Dampier Salt operations, and Monadelphous’ workshop.

“These opportunities for our current students help support their STEM career journey and professional development as they get to experience first-hand the career pathways available in WA, and network with our industry partners – whose generous support makes these tours possible,” Ms Douglas said.