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Rocketing girls into STEM jobs

By March 23, 2020July 2nd, 2020News
St Mary's College water rocket launch

Learning how things fly is a game of numbers and on Friday 13 March, 250 female secondary students from Ipswich launched more than 300 rockets towards getting more girls in aviation and aerospace careers.

Currently females account for only 6% of aeroplane pilots, 8% of aerospace engineers and 3% of aircraft maintenance engineers, with the first Girls in Aerospace STEM Day championing the many different STEM career options available for women, funded through a Queensland Women’s Week community grant.

Students from St Mary’s College, Ipswich and St Augustine’s College, Springfield were invited to gain an introduction to aerospace theory, constructing and launching their own water rockets made from repurposed materials, then later launching 100 chemical rockets over 100 metres in the air.

As part of the day, students had the opportunity to ask questions of an all-female panel of industry professionals including RAAF Pilot Mel Russell, UQ Aerospace Engineer Isabelle Flemming, Aeropower Helicopter Pilot Alanna Carew and GE Aviation Aircraft Maintenance Engineer Jodie Fair, who shared their advice for aviation and aerospace careers.

And the common theme of advice was to get out there and have a go. “The best advice I can give is to say ‘yes’ to things,” said RAAF Pilot Mel Russell, who shared about her career in military aviation taking her around the world.

UQ Aerospace Engineer Isabelle Flemming agreed saying, “You don’t get one go at this—there are lots of goes. Fail as much as you can by trying new things and working out what’s not for you.

“Don’t box yourself into labels. These experiences will take you wherever you want,” said Ms Flemming.

“Get used to being uncomfortable,” said Aircraft Maintenance Engineer Ms Fair, who spoke of loving planes and flight from an early age, but didn’t want to be a pilot. Instead she wanted to work with her hands and would love to get into the growing Australian space industry.

“Don’t listen to anyone who says you can’t do it,” Ms Fair said.

The Girls in Aerospace STEM was organised by the Queensland Rocketry Society and STEM education provider It’s Rocket Science Adventures.

Member of Queensland Rocketry Society, Petar Nikolic said that the event was a great way to promote rocketry and STEM careers for young women, saying, “Sally Ride, the first US woman in space, said ‘Young girls need to see role models in whatever careers they may choose, just so they can picture themselves doing those jobs someday. You can’t be what you can’t see.’

“Getting hands-on with the rockets and talking to people who live and breathe aerospace is a fantastic opportunity for these young women,” said Mr Nikolic.

It’s Rocket Science Adventures Founder Cran Middlecoat, who is himself an airline pilot, praised the work of leading female CEOs in aerospace for inspiring young women to pursue STEM based careers.

“People like Carley Scott, Megan Clarke and Lisa Harvey-Smith are doing great things to inspire girls to pursue aerospace careers, but when only 6% of pilots are women, we need to keep inspiring women at grass roots levels,” said Mr Middlecoat.

“Flight and space science is not just for the boys—that’s why our school programs and events such as these are so important—they create career pathways and show how exciting the science, technology, engineering and maths curriculum can be.”

As a recent member of the Queensland Government’s Aerospace Gateway to Industry Schools program, St Mary’s College Ipswich was seen as the ideal school to host the event.

College Principal Judith Finan said, “As a new Aerospace Gateway to Industry School, we have introduced vocational pathways including a Certificate III in aviation and Certificate II in Engineering,” said Ms Finan.

“In advocating for young women in the Science, Mathematics, Technologies and Engineering fields, the College is committed to sourcing pathway opportunities where our girls will be valued and situated well for success,” she said.

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