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Dr Michelle Ellis

  1. As a Project Coordinator (Outreach and Engagement) in the School of Science, what inspired you to take this direction in your career inspiring high school students into STEMM areas?

    There are not enough females in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics disciplines. Further to this, Marie Wilson said, “You can’t be what you can’t see!” A challenge was therefore laid in front of me. My research sought to identify what female year 9 and 10 students knew about computer and security science. The task was to then be revolutionary.

    The research revealed that there was a real lack of knowledge, with many misconceptions about working in computing and security science. ‘Girls in ICT’ was therefore established within the School of Science in conjunction with Professor Trish Williams (previously Associate Dean [Computer and Security]). We wanted to bring about change and provide a worthy program that would awaken girls to the opportunities within computing and security science by showcasing computing and security science and the relevant skills needed to work in these fields.

    The ‘Girls in ICT’ project began with Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP) funding to assist with the running of workshops and the transportation of school groups to the Joondalup campus. The success of the program really lies in the many volunteer ECU students who helped to teach these workshops, offering their own stories and career aspirations. Subsequently, with my support and gentle guidance, these volunteers have been able to present workshops, and, in some cases, develop and deliver their own workshop. This has been a game changer for all of us as stars are born.

  2. What does the Girls Programming Network do and where do you see this initiative going in the future?

    Girls Programming Network (GPN) is essentially ‘girls teaching girls how to code’. Each term, female high school students are invited to attend our free ‘hands on’ coding workshops hosted by the School of Science. The success of GPN can also be attributed to the growing number of volunteer women who come along to tutor the girls inspiring them to consider a career in the computer and security fields.

    GPN commenced with a small group of high school girls with female ECU computer and security science students and ECU’s alumni as mentors and tutors. Within two years, we have grown. Over 60 girls are enrolling in our workshops each term, from Yanchep to Bunbury. It is exciting to see the high school students mix with university and industry women, asking questions, sharing insights and passions. Some of our advanced high school students have even come on board as tutors, with graduating ECU students moving to industry mentors.  Overall, it has been wonderful in providing opportunities for girls to mix and network with professional women, learning about their career pathway and realising opportunities that lie ahead.

  3. Formerly being a teacher, you completed a PhD in parent/teacher interactions. What advice would you give parents in encouraging their children throughout their education, especially as we move into the digital era?

    Parents are role models 24 hours, 7 days a week! How you approach and use digital technology (like reading and maths) will be copied by those around you. In saying that, some of our children utilise online games and social media more than we do! However, we need to be exposing them to the other side of technology - get them coding! We are in the Digital Age where technology has revolutionised what and how we do things. Jobs are being automated with robots replicating human actions. Technology has infiltrated our everyday lives assisting us with communication, transportation, education, health, shopping, working and entertainment for example.

    Parents should be encouraging their children to build their own games and develop their own apps. There are a multitude of coding and computing workshops that operate during and after school, as well as in the school holidays. Here in ECU’s School of Science, for example, we run GPN, WA Code Makers, DigiTech, Women in STEMM, Cyber for Schools and i-Ops during the term. Then we have Coderdojo in our local libraries, as well as other digital technology clubs operating in local areas. We are trying to help schools, teachers and school aged students move into the digital era. So parents, we have passed the Agrarian and Industrial Revolution and are now entering the Digital Revolution. Get on board and let’s code!

  4. As a 2017 Edith Cowan Athena SWAN Advancement Scheme recipient, what did the provided funds facilitate in your community outreach work?

    Being acknowledged for my achievements through the Athena SWAN Advancement Scheme, I was able to undertake several initiatives:

    • Female ECU computer and security science students were sent to Sydney to learn more about GPN. On their return, they helped coordinate activities, develop workbooks and mentored other volunteers. #risingstars
    • Secondly, we invited more schools to attend DigiTech, Women in STEMM, Cyber for schools and i-Ops workshops at ECU. This allowed us to expose more high school students to the world of computer and security science. #changingperceptions
    • Thirdly, we took a group of ECU computer and security science students to Geraldton and Bunbury. Here we hosted computer and security science workshops for schools, students and teachers alike. #beingthechange
    • Finally, we provided membership to low SES schools to set up after school coding clubs specifically for girls. At that stage teachers were just coming to terms with the new Digital Technologies curriculum and this was a self-sustaining program suitable for novices. #gamechangers
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