NPP Projects

Collabor8: Women in Engineering and Information Technology Programs

Lead University: University of Technology Sydney

Lead Researcher: Melissa Ronca

Research Team: Melissa Ronca, Catherine Raffaele, Bronwyn Holland and Maya Marcus

Year Funded: 2014

Funding Received: $211,820


This project piloted a ‘cyclical’ (multiple touch point) program to build interest and aspiration in STEM study and career pathways for female high school students at metropolitan and regional low SES schools. Female role models currently studying engineering and IT at university engaged participants through school visits, on-campus days, and industry connect sessions to demystify and promote STEM careers, and offer insights into tertiary study.

Project Outline

  • The project was to build aspiration and interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in female high school students by developing a cyclical model of contact with the target cohorts by age and socioeconomic status (SES).
  • The project team successfully designed a ‘cyclical’ (multiple touch point) program called Collabor8 that was piloted to a cohort of 405 Year 8 and 9 girls from seven schools serving low SES communities in Sydney and regional New South Wales (NSW).
  • The program was successful in building the interest and aspiration of participants in engineering and information technology (IT) study and career pathways. It significantly influenced their perceptions of the suitability of these fields as careers for women and broke down stereotypes that hold women back from entering and participating in these fields.
  • The project team recruited 100 University of Technology Sydney (UTS) engineering and IT students as volunteers for the Collabor8 program and ran training sessions with them. The volunteers were then to attend school visits, on-campus days, and industry connect sessions.
  • Seven schools serving low SES communities in Sydney and regional NSW participated for the full 2015 year. Each school ran a selection process to recruit participants for the program, either inviting girls in Years 8 and 9 to express their interest, or asking Year 8 and 9 science and mathematics teachers to nominate girls they thought would most benefit from participation in the program. Each school was asked to identify 30 girls from Year 8 and 30 girls from Year 9.
  • The outcome of the program design was a touch point program that:
    • exposed participants to female role models currently studying engineering and IT at university who were not much older than themselves and who had recently made decisions about post-school study options and careers
    • demystified the views participants might have about tertiary study and, in particular, tertiary study in engineering and IT and raised their awareness about studying these subjects
    • engaged participants in a fun and collaborative engineering-based problem solving and design exercise in an all-female environment.

Key Findings

  • The project was extensively analysed and produced positive results in four ‘touch points’:
    • Participants reported an increased understanding of engineering and IT as valid options of study and career.
    • Participants reported extended aspirations of a changed perception of engineering and IT study.
    • Participants reported a raised awareness of the role of women in male-dominated workplaces; increased levels of confidence in their own ability to succeed in STEM fields; and a widened aspiration to pursue higher education.
    • Participants reported a changed perception of STEM workplaces and opportunities; increased insights into subject choices; and an increased understanding of the STEM knowledge base in industry.
  • The evaluation of the Collabor8 program has led to recommendations for the improvement of program delivery by the UTS Women in Engineering and IT (WIEIT) team and the Collabor8 approach will inform future work at UTS.
  • The Collabor8 project will:
    • assist other universities to support women to understand the roles of engineers and IT professionals
    • increase interest in studying engineering or IT at university
    • increase interest and knowledge of STEM related study and career paths
    • raise engagement in engineering and IT content.

Summary prepared by the NCSEHE.

Posted 9 October 2018