Dr Elena Prieto-Rodriguez is on a STEM program mission to revolutionize the way we learn maths and technology at school and uni.
After completing degrees in Maths education and Theoretical Computer Science, Elena became interested in understanding the reasons why young people in Australia choose to undertake careers in STEM – or not! Now she’s a senior Lecturer at the University of Newcastle’s School of Education, where Elena convenes the teaching degrees for all STEM areas.
She’s also leading a research group which aims to find ways to support teachers at all levels who want to incorporate computer science in their teaching. Elena aims to bring STEM education up to speed with our changing world with STEM program pilots like HunterWISE. Here, she shares why STEM education is crucial.
What’s your big picture goal or purpose?
I would like for teachers in Australia to enjoy Computer Science as much as I do, and to transfer this passion to their students.
It has really been part of me all my life. I got my first personal computer at age 11, a very very ‘interesting’ ZX Spectrum, 16K.
Tell us about a fun project you’re working on right now.
My favourite project at the moment is called ScratchMaths. It is a project designed in the UK by Profs Richard Noss and Celia Hoyles. With this project, teachers and their students learn to integrate mathematics and coding in a way that benefits the learning in both areas. It is fascinating. I have already run it as a small pilot project, but I would really like to bring ScratchMaths to Australia.
What’s your most ambitious STEM program to date?
My most ambitious project is called HunterWiSE (Hunter Women in STEM). HunterWiSE features two interlinked activities – a network for women working in STEM professions and a schools outreach program. With this project, we aim to create new avenues for women in STEM in the Hunter region to liaise, collaborate, and mentor each other. Established in 2017, HunterWiSE makes visible the crucial contribution of women in STEM to regional economies. The initiative also works to positively influence how school aged girls perceive STEM careers, thereby increasing participation in STEM education and career choices by young women in the Hunter.
What do you know about STEM now that you didn’t know at school?
You can use STEM to help people, it can really be a ‘caring profession’. This is important to me.
Why do we need more women working in STEM?
I am not sure why we even have to ask this question! Women are 50% of the population and integral part of our society. Of course we should see more of them in STEM.
What is your advice to young women who want to learn about and pursue a career in STEM?
You are going to have to work hard, and sometimes you may have to prove yourselves more than equally qualified men, but please never feel you don’t have the right to be a STEM professional!
I love my job, it really is my dream job, helping young people become amazing teachers and fulfill their potential. I wish I can keep on doing it for many years.
Tell us a fun fact not many people know about you.
I love theatre and I would love to play Maggie in Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
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Author: Larissa Fedunik-Hofman
Larissa is the editorial assistant for Careers with STEM and a Chemistry PhD student. Larissa’s goal is to promote public engagement with STEM through inspiring stories.