Young women take on careers in engineering
Women may only make up ten per cent of engineers in Australia, but that hasn't stopped Marita Cheng from encouraging girls to join the industry and taking home the title of Young Australian of the Year 2012.
The Cairns local turned full-time university student – Ms Cheng is currently in the process of completing a double degree in Engineering (Mechatronics) and Computer Science, at the University of Melbourne – is the founder and director of Robogals, an international organisation that aims to get girls interested in science, engineering and technology.
Established in 2008 the student-run group has quickly grown and now has as many as 16 branches in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Ireland and the Netherlands.
The organisation relies on dedicated volunteers to run workshops that are suitable for kids of primary and high school age by relating engineering to things that are important in their lives in a bid to show its relevance.
So far more than 3,000 girls from 80 schools across the country have participated in a Robogals educational program.
Despite research showing that science-related courses have a serious image problem in Australian schools – think geeks, nerds, boring classes and hard exams – Ms Cheng said it was important to bust myths "so that our kids can not just be consumers of technology but also creators of technology".
"As a community we need to support and rally our kids, especially girls, to get them engaged in engineering and technology from a young age so that Australia can continue to produce world class innovations."
She also suggested that one of the best ways to get girls interested in a career in engineering was by providing role models for them to look up to, which is an important part of the Rogobals philosophy.
The 22-year-old said: "I think it's really important that we get engineers and engineering students out to schools to share with students what engineering actually is and what engineers actually do so that kids from a young age can understand what it means to be an engineer."
In addition to her work with Robogals and university study Ms Cheng has also tried her hand at radio as co-host of Screw It, Just Do It on SYN (90.7 FM Melbourne) where she regularly interviewed young entrepreneurs, and worked as a sales director at Nudge after co-founding the technology company, an SMS and phone call reminder service.