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New Zealand Science Teacher

Science Education & Society

Turning on the switch for science

SWITCHES is a new community hoping to encourage young women in technology, engineering, and science.

81178260 woman with test tube SmallSWITCHES (Successful Women in Technology, Engineering and Science) is a new online community founded by Auckland University student Hayley Haskell.  

New Zealand Science Teacher had a chat with Hayley about her new project.

SWITCHES is pretty fresh- what sparked its creation?

I have always had a passion for maths and science. Traditionally, within these subject fields, there have been more males than females. I remember attending a presentation by a graduate engineer, for those interested in pursuing a career in this field. Out of the 20 or so attendees, I was the only girl! I have used this to fuel my determination to succeed within my studies and career, and to encourage other young women to explore the opportunities available to them. The day I decided to pursue a specialty in software engineering, I appreciated there wasn't a 'stereotypical' employee in this field. I suddenly had a different mindset to many of my fellow women students. And ultimately, I wished that they too understood this. This prompted me to investigate a way in which I could encourage other young women to pursue IT related careers. I then took a step back, and realized that the core issue needed to be addressed: the way in which young women perceive all forms of science, technology and engineering careers. What they need is encouragement, support and role models who they can aspire to. Consequently, I believed creating a group could make a difference, hence SWITCHES.

I notice you have a ‘membership zone’ on the website. How will this work?

The membership zone is designed in order to gain information about members, so that events can be held and competitions can be run. Once you sign up, you will receive the password to this page, which enables you to answer polls, such as where you are based and what activities would be of interest. Also, you will be able to submit entries for competitions that are run throughout the year, such as the current one, designing a logo.

What do you think are the biggest obstacles for young women in the science/technology sectors?

I personally believe the biggest obstacle is the social influence we face every day. At high school I found that gender balance, especially in maths and physics, was out of equilibrium. The current education system offers many subjects, such as design and photography, which girls are naturally attracted to. Due to peer pressures, many girls will take these subjects, instead of the core options, which then limits their options for further studies. Ultimately, due to tertiary requirements, they have eliminated the option of studying within the science/technology sectors. Hence, I believe it is crucial that young women take a balanced approach to their education, and commit to some science and maths based subjects, in order to better experience what is offered.

Why is it important that we have designated channels, or ways, for young women to get inspired in STEM?

Because there are so many subject options offered at school, it’s easy for a student to limit their educational experience. I have found that females are particularly drawn to the art-based subjects - and I am not against these! In fact, I elected to study dance in early high school, as well as French. I also immersed myself in an interpretive dance paper at university last year. But, I ensured that in my late years of secondary school, before committing to a science based degree, that I would keep my options open by taking core subjects. By this, I mean English, maths, biology, chemistry, physics and economics. This would allow me to gain acceptance into any tertiary course of my choice, which did mean I was of envy to many fellow students. But, with equal opportunities, the other female students were able to elect to include at least some of these subjects. I understand that not all women like STEM subjects, just as I never liked physical education! But, I truly believe that there are many other female students who could be inspired by engagement. Hence, we need to take a step towards encouraging the commitment of STEM subjects in schooling, alongside the other options available.

What’s your plan for SWITCHES in 2015?

Here's a summary of the plans for the upcoming year:

  •           Emails every now and then, with a list of upcoming events that may be of interest to members, as well as any updates regarding               additions to the website (such as blog posts etc).
  •           Access to Member Zone on the website
  •           Opportunity to chat with our members across New Zealand in the member Facebook group
  •           Hopefully, with enough interest and support, SWITCHES will have:
  •           A database to access, which lists female tutors across New Zealand.
  •           Events and meet-ups to be held across various locations
  •           Member 'merchandise' - by this, I mean apparel, posters etc, for members

Can you tell me a bit about what you’re studying at Auckland University and your passion for science?

I am studying a conjoint degree in software engineering and commerce, where the latter's major is yet to be decided (possibly management or entrepreneurship). I have had a lifelong passion for maths and science, after winning six national titles in mathematics, two regional science fairs, and a true highlight, being awarded a medal by The Governor General of New Zealand, at The Royal Society of New Zealand's 'Realise the Dream' program. I have always been a creative person, taking up opportunities to enter baking competitions, wearable arts shows and dance competitions. But, to me, science allows me to problem solve and find solutions which can be of benefit to society. I have gained personal satisfaction through my research, and I hope to be able to help others, as I continue to do so. Software engineering will allow me to meet with clients to assist with any problems they experience. I can also work on designing programs and applications which will be appreciated internationally, with the intent of improving quality of life. My future plans are to study at a postgraduate level, then to work for a well-established, international technology firm. One day, I hope to run my own company.

Find SWITCHES here.

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