Support for women in STEM launched in the Hunter

Friday, 15 September 2017


Hunter Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship (HunterWiSE), a new STEM outreach program based on mentorship, was launched on Monday 31 July 2017.

HunterWiSE was developed by a team of passionate female academics from The University of Newcastle (UON) and relies heavily on partnerships with industry sponsors; Hunter Water, Glencore, and Muswellbrook Council along with assistance and support from NIER.

This initiative aims to bring women working in STEM, STEM educators, and high school students, encouraging positive collaboration and sharing of experiences with the aim to encourage young women to pursue careers in STEM and support them once they commence those careers.

On the evening of the launch attendees gathered at The University of Newcastle’s Three76 Hub to learn about the new initiative. Guests included representatives from sponsoring organisations, as well as STEM professionals working in industry and academia.

Professor Deb Hodgson, leader of UON’s Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) Assessment Team, commenced the formal portion of the evening by discussing the university’s commitment to gender equity.  Professor Hodgson, quoting Marian Wright Edelman, said “you can’t be what you can’t see” succinctly summing up the important role of mentorship in career aspirations.

Dr Elena Prieto, one of the academics driving HunterWiSE, then described the two interlinked strategies that aim to increase participation in STEM among women in the Hunter Region.

The first, an in-school program being trialled with students from Muswellbrook High School, provides students with an opportunity to not only utilise STEM skills in a meaningful project, but to meet female STEM mentors.

The second strategy, the development of a Hunter wide network, aims to increase mentorship avenues for and collaboration among women working and studying in STEM.

When asked for her thoughts on the project Elizabeth Bate, the Muswellbrook High School principal, said:

I am inspired by what I see happening and humbled by the opportunities our girls have been given. It has already generated discussion about subject selection choices in their senior years and life beyond school.

The pilot program at Muswellbrook High School draws to a close on 26 October 2017. The girls who are participating in the program are seeing opportunities in STEM that they did not know existed. According to Ms Bate the project offers more than just STEM skills but “provides our rural girls with an exposure to successful women already in industry, who are making a difference.”

The girls are working on a range of projects such as ways of managing the issue of Flying Foxes in the community, energy use in local homes, along with a website to map local community gardens – highlighting the opportunities available for them in their senior school years and beyond.

Driven by the initial success of the pilot program HunterWiSE will, with the support of the University of Newcastle’s Faculty of Engineering and Built Environment, be delivering the program in two additional schools in 2018.

The HunterWiSE team will also be delivering a series of networking events for female STEM professional across the Hunter.

This dual approach of targeting students and professionals has the aim of increasing the number of females entering, and simultaneously encouraging retention of women already in, the STEM pipeline.