By Nathan Mifsud
In year 10, Greta Stephenson had an experience that turned her interest in science and maths into a fully fledged passion. She entered a school engineering challenge and set out to build a mechanical hand. Her team won the competition by forging fingers and tendons from everyday materials. “We used cotton balls to provide grip,” says Greta, “and pulled string through specially cut straws so that we could manipulate the fingers”.
Fast forward two years, and Greta has dived deep into the plentiful world of STEM-focused camps for high school students. One highlight was the Aboriginal Summer School for Excellence in Technology and Science (ASSETS) program run by CSIRO, in which students conduct a research project and present their findings. They also hear from Indigenous mentors and leaders and strengthen their traditional understanding. “It’s great to actually learn about my culture while doing stuff I love,” says Greta.
Greta advises her fellow students – especially girls – to seize every opportunity possible. She recalls that “at some camps, boys thought I couldn’t do something because I’m a girl”, but she leapt ahead by applying herself. As evidence, Greta recently won the inaugural Indigenous STEM Student Award together with Sharni Cox. “It’s amazing that both winners were women,” says Greta. “This award is a great opportunity to show what is possible.”
In the future, Greta hopes to harness engineering to improve people’s quality of life. She was recently inspired by a presentation about a humanitarian project in India. To provide occupants of an urban slum with light, members of Engineers Without Borders installed remarkably effective solar lamps: a bottle of water fitted into a hole in the roof to refract sunlight from above into the room below. “Such a simple fix to a long-term problem,” says Greta. “I would love to do work like that – I just want to help everyone.”
Greta’s path to engineering
>> At 10, participated in a leadership school run by the Queensland Country Women’s Association, then elected Deputy State Leader of the QCWA Young Leaders in 2016
>> Attended CSIRO’s ASSETS, UNSW Sydney’s Nura Gili Engineering Winter School, University of Queensland’s InspireU residential camps, and Australia National University’s National Science and Engineering Summer School for Indigenous Students and National Mathematics Summer School
>> Participated in University of Southern Queensland’s Head Start program
>> Plans to study a dual degree in Civil Engineering and Maths at university
Opportunities to get involved
Keep an eye out for the 2017 competition – applications open later this year! The Indigenous STEM Awards are managed by CSIRO and funded by the BHP Billiton Foundation.
In addition, nominations for the inaugural Indigenous Digital Excellence (IDX) Awards are open until 29 April, and awards will be presented on 29 September. For more information about the award categories and how to be involved, click here.