Lumina: A Hub of Opportunity for Women in STEM

News - 06 Sep 2021

 

Lumina, the new 9.5-hectare land development in the Gold Coast Health and Knowledge Precinct is lighting the way for growth in health, education and innovation, attracting the brightest minds to converge and collaborate in new ways.

To grow Australia’s future, it is essential that we have access to a vibrant and sustainable STEM workforce – and growing participation of women in STEM is a key part of this strategy.

STEM Careers are Essential to Growing our Future Economy

STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) play a crucial role in innovation, which is a key driver of growth for Australia’s economy. It’s been estimated that when flow-on effects are considered, the impact of STEM fields account for over 26% of Australian economic activity, or about $330 billion per year. The future growth of advanced economies to a great extent is led by these advanced sciences.

It is a pioneering time for young female students in Australia considering pursuing a career in STEM, and an exciting time for collaboration in the Health and Knowledge Precinct.

We Need More People, Particularly Women, in STEM Careers

Australia needs a deeper STEM talent pool. The ‘Australian Government Advancing Women in STEM Strategy’, acknowledges that with rapid technology change driving new workforce needs, STEM skills are increasingly required, and that women are underrepresented in STEM education and careers.

The strategy found differences between male and female students start to appear very early in schooling. The strategy highlights key factors that impact this including:

  • the importance of increasing STEM potential through education to engage,
  • increasing the visibility of the variety of STEM careers to inspire,
  • and strategies that attract and retain women in STEM careers to enable our future workforce.

The STEM Pipeline Starts Within Schools

Vanessa Rebgetz is Principal at the Queensland Academies Health Sciences Campus and has a plan in place to encourage young people in their STEM studies. Her school is one of three top-performing state high schools for highly capable students in Years 10 to 12.

The Academy is the only school within the Gold Coast Health and Knowledge Precinct. Due to its proximity to Griffith University, Gold Coast University Hospital, and other state-of-the-art facilities, it provides unique opportunities for students in STEM.

The Power of Student-to-Student Mentoring

Vanessa believes in the power of ‘showing’ how it can be done early, and not waiting until students are preparing to enrol in a university.

“A real game-changer for us has been the power of mentoring. Young students become what they see around them, and they need a guide along the way to get there,” says Vanessa, as she explains that their programs begin well before students attend the Academy.

“We start our mentorship program with Year 6 students from local Gold Coast primary schools, who are partnered with our senior students. This is a real point of difference for us; to have the students share their experiences at a key juncture in a student’s education.”

It continues as students enter the Academy at Year 10 and are mentored by Year 11 and 12 students. As Vanessa explains, the students can project onto their own future, saying to themselves “I can see my future self in this mentor, I would like to be like this mentor,” and they are being shown the way there. She acknowledges “There is a great flow of information and inspiration that happens here.”

Opportunities for Real-World Connections are Next Door

That mentoring and visibility continues with the Academy’s relationship with Griffith University. Students at the Academy have a 5-minute walk across the footbridge between the two institutions, where they can learn in Griffith’s laboratories and can access one-to-one student mentorship programs with academics and researchers.

This first-hand experience gives students a window into seeing themselves in diverse careers. It helps to counter the prevalent view that scientists are only ‘white haired men in lab coats’ – and demonstrates the range and nature of STEM careers, from astronomers studying the furthest stars, those working in laboratories to develop future vaccines, the engineers collaborating on the production of bionic limbs, to the forensic scientists helping to solve crimes.

While a high proportion of Academy students are interested in health and medicine, there is also an emerging group who are interested in business and entrepreneurship. This group may soon benefit from connections with innovation hubs like Cohort Innovation Space and other ‘game-changers’ moving into the precinct.

For Vanessa and her students, it is an exciting place to be.

“Being part of the precinct is an amazing privilege for the students. To get that first-hand experience, and then to be able to see cutting-edge emerging knowledge, right on your doorstep, it is incredibly exciting,” Vanessa explained.

Mentorship Experiences are Common in Women with Careers in STEM

Dr. Laura Diamond is a Senior Lecturer at the Griffith Centre of Biomedical and Rehabilitation Engineering (GCORE) who made the move to the precinct from Melbourne in 2016, after an exciting academic research opportunity arose. “It was the perfect opportunity for me to move into an academic role. Although I hadn’t intended on leaving Melbourne, it was too hard to pass up in the end.”

Laura studied Engineering as an undergraduate, after a strong academic performance in maths and science in high school. In the beginning, however, she admits she wasn’t very inspired by engineering.

It wasn’t until the later part of Laura’s undergraduate degree that she met a professor who became her Masters Degree supervisor and remains a mentor of Laura’s today. It was he who first introduced Laura to the world of biomechanics.

“I have had very strong mentors that were both men and women, and who have taken chances on me and given me the confidence to pursue a career in research.”

Laura completed her Masters Degree in Biomedical/Medical Engineering, and went on to complete a PhD in the field of Biomechanics and Sports Medicine, and is now a highly regarded researcher and academic at GCORE.

Visibility Remains Important in Ongoing Careers, too

The differences in engagement between women and men in STEM fields continue to widen in tertiary education and are especially pronounced in later careers with only 15% of STEM senior academic roles held by women. Laura believes that part of the problem is that they may not be aware of the diverse potential pathways available to them.

Exposure to different, less traditional STEM fields can open up opportunities that they never knew existed, especially in emerging technology. The ability for women in STEM to build professional networks, especially across industry, is crucial to not only attract experts in their fields like Laura but also to retain them throughout their careers.

Laura agrees wholeheartedly. “Lumina is going to provide an opportunity to bring together many key players in research. And that includes industry, researchers, key stakeholders, and advanced technology.”

“The vision for my own research is to develop and connect cutting-edge technologies for the people who need it the most to improve their quality of life. The potential collaborations here will be perfect for making that happen.”

From the Laboratory Bench to Business, to Beach

While an exciting STEM career for women is important, sustaining women in careers also requires an environment that supports lifestyle and families. Lumina, positioned on the sunny Gold Coast, just 15 minutes away from Surfers Paradise beach, with $5 billion investment in the precinct’s infrastructure, including light rail, residential, retail and health, has a lot to offer in that regard.

That was important for Laura. “When thinking about building a family in the future, and at the same time to be able to continue my focus on cutting-edge research,” she said.

As Laura says, who wouldn’t want to work in this type of environment?