Most people dream, some by day, and few make their dreams come true. But even fewer are like Marita Cheng, who made it possible for others to dream.
Marita was born in Cairns, Queensland, Australia. She grew up in a modest housing commission community with her brother and single-parent mother, who worked as a hotel room cleaner.
Marita did something far beyond the ordinary. Studying her bachelors of Engineering (Mechatronics) and Computer Science at University of Melbourne was a major decision in itself.
Marita told Australian Women Online: “I took a look around my classroom and there were only 5 girls out of 50 in my degree and 15 girls out of 150 in a Mechanical Engineering degree.”
However, Marita decided to address this situation by encouraging other young girls to take an interest in the otherwise male-dominated field of engineering. Her solution to this was to start up Robogals – an initiative to inspire young girls to participate in engineering, and science and technology.
Robogals has run many fun yet educational activities, such as robotics workshops, at many primary and secondary schools as well as career talks with the help of university volunteers.
This initiative was not an easy one to start or continue. Marita reveals the road was lined with challenges from managing the finances to various other issues.
“It was all just a matter of looking at it ‘head on’ and persevering. A key motivation for perseverance is sowing the seeds for other young girls to realise their potential and particularly for them not to be afraid to engage with sciences and engineering,” she said.
“The challenges that Robogals has faced along the way include funding, getting people excited about volunteering, making sure that we had good processes in place so we could expand from just one project to many projects all around the country and all around the world, ….I think the one thing I’ve learned about challenges is that if you persist at thinking about them and talking to other people about them, and raising different ideas about how to approach and tackle problems then together you can work your way through anything.”
Marita’s efforts with Robogals were recognised when she won the Young Australian of the Year award in 2012. Marita serves not only as an ambassador for female involvement in engineering, the sciences and cultural inclusion but also as an inspiration for many others.
“I think the secret to my success is always looking for new challenges and new adventures that really excite me that are also helpful and good for other people as well …I feel so excited and full of energy to pursue new ideas and by approaching that new project with that gusto I put a lot of myself into it and it turns out well because of that….so looking for challenges that are exciting so you can give everything to it and it should turn out ok.”
Currently, Marita is working on her own robotics company and encourages other youth to similarly pursue their passion. ”You only have one life and a limited number of days”.
Marita is producing robots that have arms and legs with the mobility to move around in order to help people such as the disabled.
“Looking ahead to the future, I want to make robots that make a difference for people’s life and having fun and bringing new technology to the world,” she said with a smile.