STEAMpunk Girls

Marilyn_cropped STEAMpunk Girls
Marilyn O’Reil Tek (centre). Photo by Anna Zhu

An enterprising group of Sydney girls recently took part in the three-month program STEAMpunk Girls. The challenge? To identify and address real-world issues concerning cultural awareness, sustainability, health and poverty. They tackled the problems using an interdisciplinary STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) approach and presented their solutions at UTS as part of the 2017 Sydney Science Week. We spoke to Marilyn O’Reil Tek, one of the 64 participants.

What’s your full name?

Marilyn O’Reil Tek

What school do you go to, and what year are you in?

I attend Liverpool Girls’ High School and I am currently in year 8.

What is the STEAMpunk program and how did you get involved?

The program was titled “STEAMpunk Girls’ Pilot Project” and it was led by the UTS Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Creative Intelligence Unit. I became involved in this project through my school organisations.

What was it like? How was it different to what you expected?

STEAMpunk girls was an overwhelmingly impressive, educational program which cleared my bubble of ambiguity surrounding what innovation truly means. The program aided in cognitive development through technological interpretations, hands-on practical lessons and experimental approaches. Being exposed to the STEAM fields through individual and collaborative projects empowered me to problem solve by utilising an array of multi-disciplinary skills. It also allowed me to develop an entrepreneurial mind-set. The expectations I had before commencing the program were hugely different from how I perceive it to be now. Initially, I considered it to be a general (and maybe even boring) work experience program. I had no idea that I would get the opportunity to play around with new devices and visit intriguing areas such as the data arena in UTS. Now that I’ve experienced it, I am able to process what an epic 3 months I’ve had.

What problem did you choose to tackle at STEAM Punk, and why?

Our issue was community-based and it addressed the key issues behind our focal question: How might we improve the living standards of impoverished individuals? As a team, we recognised that although we should treat each individual equally, the majority of human beings still continue to classify and judge particular groups of people. The focal point of our case study was homeless individuals within the suburb of Liverpool. We chose this topic to minimise the injustices typically faced by those living on the streets. We all deserve to feel a sense of belonging but homeless individuals are often excluded from society, predominantly due to intolerance and unsupportive attitudes. Those who lack resources for necessities often struggle with an uncooperative society and obnoxious comments, and they shouldn’t have to live in this manner.

What was your solution?

We created a well-executed digital representation to raise awareness about and improve the welfare of homeless individuals. Our video showcases the daily life of homeless individuals living on the streets and the public responses they receive. It juxtaposes the reality of how people react to them with how we should act towards them. Ultimately, the video informs us that we need to show consideration and benevolence towards our fellow citizens. To publicise our video, we proudly posted it on Kickstarter and we are hoping to raise $3000 to donate to a charity that helps to eliminate homelessness.

What did you learn about solving problems that you didn’t know before?

When it comes to problem-solving, my usual approach used to be to limit myself to only one definite solution. Through this program, I now understand that instead of confining myself to a specific answer, I should allow my mind to move freely and acknowledge all ideas, no matter how crazy they might seem at first. By taking a “more the merrier” approach to brainstorming, I’ve been able to arrive at more powerful and creative solutions.

What did you find most challenging and what did you find most fun?

The most challenging phase involved deciding on a format for our project solution. There were endless options, but we needed to see which would elevate our project to the best possible level. Eventually, as a team, we cracked the code and decided on a video format. What I relished most about the program was the opportunity to use tools such as coding. Through guidance from mentors at UTS, I evaluated the appropriate application of certain apps and scrutinised the features to activate a systematised device.

How about your friends? What did they like or find challenging?

My teammates agreed that the oral presentation was challenging, but it provided us with the chance to voice our stance on our topic. What they found most interesting and valuable was being able to showcase our idea to relevant industries and successful business workers at such a young age.

How did you find pitching at the showcase event? What did you get out of it?

I found pitching at the event to be a comfortable experience, even though we had to speak in front of approximately 200 people. I experienced and observed first-hand the level of professionalism and communication skills required of presenters in this working field. In addition to this, I gained confidence in public speaking, while I will definitely draw from in the future.

-Larissa Fedunik. Photo of Marilyn O’Reil Tek (centre) by Anna Zhu.

Want to know more about the STEAMpunk Girls? Read about the showcase here.

Heather Catchpole

Author: Heather Catchpole

Heather co-founded Careers with STEM publisher Refraction Media. She loves storytelling, Asian food & dogs and has reported on science stories from live volcanoes and fossil digs


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