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Podcast – GHD’s STEM program providing essential engineering pathways for young women

After graduating high school, Maritsa Kacopieros and Rebecca Argento knew right away they wanted a career in engineering. 

Maritsa, who is now the Team Leader of Water in Canberra at GHD, and Rebecca, a Process Engineer also at GHD, were both inspired at an early age to take on engineering careers.

Rebecca says this isn’t the case for most young women in Australia who rarely give engineering a second look.

“I think I've said before to some people: we don't have a cool, sexy show like ‘Grays’ or ‘Suits’,” Rebecca says. “No one knows what we do and so when we talk jargon no one understands what we're talking about.”

Knowing how important it is for girls to have exposure to STEM subjects early in life, Maritsa and Rebecca turned to a recent GHD initiative that was giving young women a much greater appreciation for engineering.  

In this episode, Jo Taranto speaks with Maritsa and Rebecca about introducing GHD’s STEM Pathway Program to break down gender barriers and provide hands-on engineering experience for girls in Year 10.

Understanding the issue firsthand

Being women in the profession, Maritsa and Rebecca have first-hand experience with some of the challenges young women face coming into STEM professions.

Rebecca says she also studied commerce as friends warned her that engineering may have not been the right fit for her.

For Maritsa, while all her employers have been supportive, she has had her fair share of slightly awkward moments.

“I had someone say to me once ‘I don't know if I should shake your hand or give you a kiss on the cheek’ and I said, ‘we're in a professional setting, so you shake my hand.’”

Rebecca says also adding to the problem was that career programs aimed at young people made the mistake of focusing on students too late.

“A lot of the research that has shown that females, particularly at high school, don't know what engineering or STEM is about,” Rebecca says.

“Programs that are aimed at university students or graduates that have already gone through their schooling means you've already missed the boat.”

How the program is making real change

Created by Monica George from GHD’s Melbourne office, the program has students in Year 10 work on a mock project with the help of a GHD buddy.

Maritsa says girls are faced with a real-life, tangible project where they get to see a range of disciplines and skill sets all at once.

“Each of the girls gets assigned a role on the project. They might be the project manager, they might be the water infrastructure engineer, electrical engineer, and within those roles, they have set tasks to complete for the week.”

The program, now in its seventh year and partnering with 10 schools, has inspired many students to take on STEM degrees and even careers.

“The Academy of Mary Immaculate in Melbourne informed us that for the first three cohorts of students that went through the program, 80% of them are now studying STEM related degrees at University,” Rebecca says.

“Female enrolments in STEM are currently around 35% and around 18% for engineering. If we can get 80% of the students that come through the program enrolling in a STEM degree, I think that's a huge success.”

“The first students that we hosted were in 2017 are completing their university degrees within this year or next year,” Maritsa says.

“I've got my fingers crossed that one of them will join us as a grad in the coming years, and hopefully, that's a stat we can add.”


 This podcast is proudly sponsored by Schneider Electric

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