Celebration of women and girls in STEM

The International Day of Women and Girls in Science is a chance to celebrate progress in many fields of study and endeavour.

The Australian 2022 STEM Equity Monitor reports on equity and participation of girls and women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and notes more positive steps forward in its latest report.

Flinders University’s STEM Women Branching Out initiative, and participation in the national Sage Athena SWAN framework, is part of the way forward.

Female enrolments in Flinders University STEM courses have risen steadily over the past 10 years, increasing by fewer than 1000 female students to more than 1500 last year.

Overall, about 40% of  students in STEM courses within the College of Science and Engineering at Flinders University are female in 2023, up from 35% in 2020,” says Professor Giselle Rampersad, Dean (Education).

Flinders biomedical engineering student Tyra Lange says studying at the Tonsley Innovation District allows her to work with medical device companies and medical professionals including surgeons on new technologies that can change people’s lives.

Tyra Lange at one of the biomedical engineering labs at Flinders University’s Tonsley campus.

“I was always really good at maths and science. I wanted to pursue a career where I am able to help people, and help doctors help people,” she says.

Double degree student Caitlin McDonald says the forensic science course at Flinders regularly engages with Forensics Science SA and the Police “which means we have a lot of interesting cases to learn from”.

“I dreamt of doing forensics from watching the TV show Bones. I found it fascinating. I’ve also picked up computer science subjects and found I’m great at coding and I’m now making a new machine for digital forensic science as part of my honours project.”

Flinders University’s College of Science and Engineering is involved in leading two new programs to encourage more women and girls into STEM-related jobs and university courses via the Diploma of Digital Technologies and STEM Enrichment Academy Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship program.

Flinders University Professor Giselle Rampersad, director of the Flinders  Diploma of Digital Technologies, says demand is strong for this year’s courses.

“As well, through our Diploma of Digital Technologies at Flinders, we have seen an additional 200 women enrol in STEM courses within our engineering discipline from 2021-2023.

“This is a direct and tangible increase to female participation in STEM courses in an area with acute under-representation of women.

“Our Diploma of Digital Technologies has over 50% representation by women which well exceeds the national average for female participation in engineering study which peaked at 16% over a decade ago, achieving results that have not been replicated nationally.”

The latest intake will include more participants from the secondary education and defence sectors, thanks to cumulative $6.7 million in  federal funding from the Women in STEM Cadetships and Advanced Apprenticeship program to train 240 women in STEM between 2021-25.

“Teachers participating in the program will be role models for girls in their classrooms into STEM areas for years to come, leading to transformative outcomes into the future.”

Additionally, Flinders University has secured further federal funding this year to engage and attract 1,000 Year 9 girls into STEM at that critical juncture when they chose subjects, through the STEM Enrichment Academy Phase II,  funded by the Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship (WiSE) grant program. This builds on the first phase of the Academy which has engaged over 600 school girls.

College of Science and Engineering Associate Dean (Learning and Teaching) Professor Ingo Köper says the stigma of STEM disciplines largely being male dominated is becoming a thing of the past.

“We are changing perceptions and the tide is turning with increased support for women in STEM,” he says.

Also see Associate Professor Alice Gorman’s latest article in The Conversation: Prejudice, poor pay and the ‘urinary leash’: naming and claiming Australia’s forgotten women scientists

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