Dr Jillian Kenny is passionate about showing the ‘power of engineering’ to students who might not otherwise consider the field. Raising her personal profile through the Superstars of STEM program built a platform to spread her message more widely.
Kenny is working hard to promote the engineering profession to a diverse range of young people, with a focus on female, regional and Indigenous high school students.
Her not-for-profit, aptly named Power of Engineering (and co-founded by one of create‘s Most Innovative Engineers 2018 Felicity Furey), has reached more than 8000 students around the country. So far, more than 80 per cent of event participants stated they would consider a future in the profession, but as the organisation’s website says, they aren’t done yet.
“It’s about breaking down the stereotypes and showing what is really possible through an engineering career,” Kenny explained.
She has built an education business, Machinam, dedicated to widening the appeal of engineering by providing high schools with classroom resources that connect the dots between future careers and participation in STEM subjects.
Kenny told create that being selected as one of the first 30 members of the Superstars of STEM program gave her a range of media and speaking opportunities. It was also a push to actively promote her work now that she has graduated from the program.
“By raising my profile, it provided a platform for me to discuss my work and my area of expertise. That was really helpful in business – if it’s raising my profile it’s raising the profile of my work,” Kenny added.
Since participating in the program, Kenny has been invited to speak to a wide range of audiences about topics such as creativity in engineering leadership and rethinking established power structures in STEM.
You can’t be what you can’t see
The Superstars of STEM program aims to “smash” stereotypes and assumptions about women in STEM, and equip women in engineering, technology and science to become visible role models for young women and girls.
“Around 12 per cent of Australian engineers are female, so it’s important that where women are underrepresented, we create and celebrate role models,” said Superstars of STEM Program Manager Brodie Steel.
Kenny praised the speaking and media opportunities and training provided through the program. One of the high points for her was a regular slot on ABC Radio Melbourne to share the latest engineering and science news. She also said the support of other inspirational women in the program was “powerful”.
“They’re travelling the same path; they get it,” Kenny said.
Another program highlight for Kenny was her mentorship with former Sentis CEO Dr Kirstin Ferguson.
“Having the opportunity to be mentored by her has been incredible. She is someone I really look up to,” added Kenny.
Along with Dr Francesca Maclean, Kenny was one of only two engineers in the first intake of Science and Technology Australia’s Superstars of STEM program.
To make the Superstars program more accessible to women in fields such as engineering, STA has relaxed the requirement for a PhD and invited engineers with a minimum of 7 years experience in industry to apply, Steel explained.
STA has also expanded the program from one to two years, and will select 60 applicants in this round. The first year will focus on professional development, and the second on media and speaking opportunities in schools and on “high profile stages”.
Kenny said she was keen to see more female engineers put their hat in the ring for the current round of applications, which closes on 23 September.
“I think there’s an opportunity to meaningfully influence the discussion about the work you and your company or business are doing,” Kenny explained.