Breaking Barriers Award

Griffith University
Transforming Spaces in STEM through Play and Purpose 

Are you eligible for Breaking Barriers Category: Yes


Embracing diversity in STEM will help to solve the world’s complex challenges. To achieve this in a meaningful and sustainable way requires encouraging people from diverse backgrounds to connect with STEM spaces and to change the spaces themselves to be more inclusive. I am passionate about inspiring students – particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander girls and women – to realise their potential while also improving equity and diversity in STEM. I do this through development and delivery of programs, incorporating “play” and “purpose”. I use ‘play’ to increase engagement and joy in STEM through games, hands-on activities, and Lego. I also mentor students to connect with their ‘purpose’ in STEM, what brought them here, and what they want to achieve, e.g. through the Kungullanji Research Program. I also promote authentically embedding Indigenous Knowledges, bringing new perspectives to STEM. This combination of “play” and “purpose”, I believe, can lead to new innovations. 

BENEFIT – A description of the benefit of your work to Queensland (max 500 words)

My work benefits Queensland by diversifying perspectives in STEM by not only supporting and coaching more women and girls but also specifically engaging with more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Through the various activities and programs, I have been involved in, I have worked with students not just in the southeast but in rural and remote communities across Queensland. 
I promote STEM by showing how it can be fun and meaningful. I do this through finding playful ways to engage students and then coaching students to find their purpose in STEM. I am particularly fond of using Lego but also other playful ways we can engage students through gamification, simulations of real-life scenarios, creative thought experiments and demonstrations. It is important for me to show how STEM can be seen in different ways and how we can use different methods and perspectives to solve problems. 
I also encourage students to engage with different perspectives through my work embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Perspectives in Engineering. It is important that the future of STEM includes our voices and respects Indigenous knowledges and perspectives at the same level as scientific knowledge. Indigenous people have been scientists, engineers and researchers for tens of thousands of years and true innovation will come from the shared space where we combine these knowledge systems.
One of my proudest contributions to Queensland has been the creation and coordination of the Kungullanji Research Program. This program is the first undergraduate research experience for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in Australia and has supported more than 100 undergraduate research students since 2014. This program began as an initiative to increase the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in STEM research degrees but has since evolved and expanded across the university into all disciplines. Similar initiatives are now being hosted at other universities. This program differs from other undergraduate research programs because it was codesigned with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and staff to provide a safe and supportive environment for students to engage in research of importance to them and their communities. This program is still ongoing and continues to be recognised for widening participation in STEM and research more broadly, as well as addressing systemic and institutional barriers for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.     
My work on the program has shown how we can connect to the reasons why students from historically minoritized groups are attracted to STEM in the first place, channelling their interests and passions, connecting students with their purpose. Many students I work with, especially women and Indigenous students see the world from different perspectives, a world often dismissive of our experiences and they want to act to change and improve that world. My role is helping to support students to follow their ambitions and interests using STEM as the toolkit to address those big challenges.

ROLE MODEL – Why do you think you are a good role model for women and girls aspiring to work in STEM? (max 500 words)

I show that STEM is not just about white lab coats, hard hats and sitting at a computer, we can change the face of STEM as colourful creative innovators from all different backgrounds and experiences. As a former contestant on Lego Masters Australia, I want to draw from that experience to show that STEM can be fun, loud, and playful. 
I show that STEM is also a place for people of diverse backgrounds. I was one of few women studying engineering as an undergraduate student, and the only person wearing the Aboriginal stole at my graduation ceremony. I would not be where I am today without the many strong, innovative, and inspiring women who have supported, encouraged and made space for me to be where I am today. I have fought hard to pay that privilege forward, to connect students so we do not feel alone, so we can be stronger through shared experiences. 
Some highlights for me of these endeavours have been: founding the Ladies In Technology Engineering and Science (LiTES) Society at Griffith University during my undergraduate studies to connect and advocate for women including transgender women in STEM; receiving a Griffith School of Engineering Certificate of Appreciation for Work Promoting and Supporting Women in Engineering; working alongside other changemakers from Google Girl Geeks to Robogals; being nominated by colleagues for the Women in Technology (WiT) Rising Star Award; as well as facilitating and organising school outreach and other STEM promotion activities. 
It has also been my great privilege to coach and mentor many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander scholars, scientists and engineers, majority of which are women, through the Kungullanji Research Program. Many of the former summer scholars are now honours students, PhD candidates and academic colleagues. They continue to inspire me and are now role models and mentors for many other scholars coming through the program and in their respective fields. 
I have shown through my involvement in various initiatives, programs, events and organisations that we can change the face of STEM. We can show that it can be diverse, and we can transform STEM together. I believe being a good role model is not just opening the door for others but removing the door and other barriers to create new spaces for all students to thrive and self-determine their own futures. A role model not only shows the way, demonstrating and showing what a career in STEM could look like, but actively works to redefine STEM, by changing and transforming the environments and spaces so that it is easier for those that follow us. 
I will continue to show that we do not need to leave our interests, identities, passions, and purpose behind. I believe that STEM can be a way to develop our interests into careers, STEM can give us the mechanisms to solve big challenges, but we can also be ourselves. 

ENGAGEMENT – Describe any STEM promotion or engagement activities that you have undertaken, including both scientific and non-scientific audiences, particularly with women and girls (maximum 500 words)

I have been actively involved in diverse STEM promotion or engagement activities throughout my career, including activities for women and girls, and initiatives to promote STEM to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, as well as to broad, general audiences. 
Specific activities I have been involved in to promote STEM to Women and girls include Women in STEM Experience Day with the Griffith School of Engineering, Griffith representative at Women in Engineering Conferences Brisbane, Australia 2007-2012 and Paris, France 2009 and Engineering Student for a day program.
I have also been involved in activities to increase engagement and promote STEM to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples including 

  • Discovery Days in Cape York, Townsville and Abergowrie; 
  • School outreach activities on campus with Remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students for example the STEM Indigenous Experience Day with Griffith Sciences; 
  • Facilitated workshops and activities as part of a series of annual STEM camps organised by NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mathematics Alliance (ATSIMA) and Dr Chris Matthews.
  • Designed and facilitated activities and workshops for the Hands Up! University Experience Camp and Hands up! Tertiary Preparation Program. The Hands Up! Program aimed to support the transition to university study by developing academic and computer literacy skills. In 2013, the program was awarded a National Office of Learning and Teaching award for Programs that Enhance Learning in the Widening Participation category. 
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Aspirations Program (ATSIAP) challenge
  • Academic Drop-in Sessions for Indigenous undergraduate students across engineering and sciences programs to provide assistance with coursework, assessment and discuss career aspirations
  • Improving access to STEM by advocating for bridging courses/science prep courses (GriffithEng, GriffithChem) for Indigenous students
  • Indigenous Science Experience - National Indigenous Science Education Program (NISEP)
  • STEM outreach activities at Musgrave Park NAIDOC celebrations

I have also been involved in general STEM promotion and engagement activities including 

  • World Science Festival
  • The Siemens Science Experience/The Science Experience/The ConocoPhillips Science Experience 
  • STEM comedy videos on SnapChat social media platform
  • ‘Science-Connect’ workshop on science communication using social media in collaboration with UQ and Australian Science Communicators (ASC)