A budding young scientist attending Presbyterian Ladies College has been selected as one of 128 young women from across the country to participate in Curious Minds, a science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) extension learning and mentoring program.
Armidale year 10 student Chiyo Brown was selected based on her performance in three high school-based science informatics and mathematics competitions and her potential for a career in a STEM industry.
She is one of only two students from the New England area to be selected for the program since it began in 2015. The other was Chloe Harris, from Macintyre High School in Inverell, who was selected in 2017.
The 14-year-old says she has always been interested in science, and it has also always been a part of her life at home.
"I often went to my dad's work ever since I was quite little," Miss Brown said.
"I'd go to the university and wait for him to finish his lectures."
Both her parents studied science and encouraged her interests and curiosity. Her father, a paleoanthropologist at the University of New England (UNE), was also involved in discovering the 'Hobbit', a human ancestor called Homo floresiensis found on the island of Flores in Indonesia.
Miss Brown said it was interesting to learn all about the discovery from her father.
Her mother worked in forensic science in Japan before moving to Armidale, and she now teaches Japanese at UNE.
While sharing an interest in science with her family, Miss Brown's passion lies in biology and chemistry, and, like her Curious Mind's mentor, she is considering studying microbiology.
Miss Brown is working with Diana Pregonero, a passionate microbiologist working in food safety at 3M, a company that aims to use science and innovation to stimulate progress and impact people and communities across the globe.
Ms Pregonero's role is not just about working in a laboratory; she works with a variety of people and inspires them with the science behind the things that we use every day.
"Every child should be encouraged to follow their interests and use their talents to be unique and passionate about what they do," Ms Pregonero said.
"It is thanks to the encouragement I received from my family and teachers that I am where I am today.
"Programs like Curious Minds are so important.
"They nurture young women's love of STEM and set them off on a path for an enriching and fulfilling career."
In the time she has been involved in the program, Miss Brown said she has already seen the breadth of available jobs to those who study microbiology and is considering a career in the pharmaceutical industry.
The program consists of two STEM camps involving all participants -usually held on-site, but in 2020 and 2021, these are being run virtually because of COVID-19 complications.
In between the two camps, participants work with their mentors on a project of their choice. Miss Brown is working with Ms Pregonero on a project that looks at the neuroscience behind different mental illnesses and how different therapies are used to treat them.
"We are looking at both medicine and different physical therapies and the effects that they have on helping people," she said.
"We speak every three weeks and email each other in between. Through Diana I have worked out you don't have to choose between science and other hobbies, you can combine them as it is such a broad field.
"I also really like music, and so Diana thought it would be nice to combine the pharmaceutical medicine side of things with music therapy."
Miss Brown plays both violin and piano and says she finds these help her relax.
"It is really fun because you can input how you are feeling into the music and although sometimes the process is frustrating, the end product is always worth it.
"It feels really good when you play it the way you want to play it."
Ruth Carr is the executive director of Australian Science Innovations, the company behind Curious Minds; she said the program connects young women who show great potential in STEM with role models, coaching, extension activities like lectures and experiments, and networking.
"Young women that go through the Curious Minds program have the opportunity to become leaders in STEM themselves, encouraging and influencing other young women in their sphere to pursue their interests in STEM," Ms Carr said.
"As the latest trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) results for Australian high school students attest, the gender gap in some areas of STEM has little to do with classroom performance and much more to do with access for girls to STEM workforce role models and more exposure to STEM careers.
"STEM skilled jobs are growing 1.5 times faster than any other job sector in Australia, but as it stands, only 16 per cent of Australia's STEM-skilled workforce today are women."
When asked what she thinks about why young women might be hesitant to get into STEM, Miss Brown said that there is a big challenge getting access to resources for people who live in rural areas.
"I believe I am lucky to be living in Armidale, which has good schools and access to the University of New England, which runs plenty of science programs for young people," she said.
"Armidale has a lot of potential to support the next generation of young scientists."
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