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STEM Idols


STEM Idols as an event concept was launched by Northern Mallee LLEN in 2022 with the objective of promoting Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics or STEM as a career path to Year 9 students. 

NMLLEN’s commitment to bridging the gender gap in STEM education is underscored by our efforts to dispel stereotypes and inspire young girls to consider STEM-related career paths. The involvement of industry speakers, schools, and students in these initiatives reflects the collective commitment to nurturing the next generation of STEM leaders.

Citing statistics revealing women’s participation in STEM at the tertiary level and STEM related careers, NMLLEN launched STEM Idols in 2022. This event specifically targeted Year 9 girls, aiming to challenge stereotypes and inspire them to explore STEM-related career paths.

  1. General STEM Statistics in Australia:
    • Research from Amazon Web Services projects a need for 3.5 million digital skill workers in Australia by 2025, reflecting a 79% increase from the current workforce.
    • Despite this growing demand, only 18% of women go on to study STEM at the tertiary level, indicating a significant gender disparity in STEM education.
  2. Gender Representation in STEM:
    • The broader Australian workforce has close to 50% female participation, but only 16% of Australia’s STEM-skilled workforce are women, highlighting a substantial underrepresentation of women in STEM fields (
    • In 2019, less than a quarter of students studying STEM were women (22% of enrolments and 24% of completions of total STEM VET and university) (
  3. Attitudes Towards STEM at Different Ages:
    • Attitudes towards studying STEM change as boys and girls age, revealing a shift in perception according to a study in 2019-2020.
    • At ages 12 to 13, more boys than girls think they are not smart enough to study STEM in the future (55% of boys compared to 12% of girls).
    • By ages 14 to 17, more girls think they are not smart enough to study STEM than boys (38% of boys compared to 40% of girls).
    • This trend intensifies by ages 18 to 21, with 41% of girls and 29% of boys giving this reason for not studying STEM (Source:
  4. Importance of Interventions:
    • The statistics underscore the importance of interventions and initiatives aimed at reshaping attitudes towards STEM at critical developmental stages.
    • Addressing stereotypes and boosting confidence in the early secondary school years, particularly Year 9, becomes crucial to encouraging more girls to consider STEM-related career paths.
  5. STEM Idols as a Response:
    • The decision to launch STEM Idols specifically targeting Year 9 girls is informed by these statistics, recognising the need for targeted interventions to challenge stereotypes and inspire girls to pursue STEM.
    • The event brings together accomplished women in STEM fields to serve as role models, sharing their career journeys and showcasing the diverse opportunities available in STEM.

The STEM Idols initiative aligns with our broader goal of creating a more inclusive and diverse STEM workforce for the future.

STEM Idols 2022

Empowering Year 9 Girls Through Inspirational Insights

Event Overview:

In 2022, Northern Mallee LLEN launched the inaugural STEM Idols event as a targeted initiative to inspire Year 9 girls to explore Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields. This transformative event aimed to challenge stereotypes, boost confidence, and showcase the diverse opportunities available for girls in STEM careers.

Key Features:

  • Date and Venue: The event took place on Friday, July 29, 2022, at the Mildura Sporting Precinct.
  • Participants: Attended by 80 Year 9 girls from six secondary schools in the Sunraysia region.
  • Format: STEM Idols 2022 featured seven accomplished women working in various STEM-related fields, sharing their career journeys and insights.

Guest Speakers:

  1. Anne Mansell: CEO, Dried Fruits Australia
  2. Rebecca Wells: CEO, Mallee Regional Innovation Centre
  3. Dr. Zelmari Coetzee: Research Scientist, Agriculture Victoria
  4. Dr. Alison Walker: Director of ICU and Anaesthesia, MBPH (Mildura Base Public Hospital)
  5. Dr. Nicole Byrnes: Project Leader of Horticulture Innovation, SuniTAFE Smart Farm
  6. Vanessa Hall: MRCC (Mildura Rural City Council) Smart Cities Project Officer
  7. Sanam Chhusyabaga (Sonia): Infrastructure Development Officer, MRCC

Event Highlights:

  • Career Journeys: Each speaker shared valuable insights into their career journeys, highlighting their roles and the relevance of STEM in their respective fields.
  • Career Pathways: The girls received information on diverse career pathways, including Agriculture, Viticulture, Horticulture, Healthcare, Civil Infrastructure, and Town Planning.
  • Virtual Reality Desk: A Virtual Reality desk was set up in collaboration with SuniTAFE, allowing students to experience an augmented reality-based industrial video tour.
  • Climate Action Kits: Participating schools received Climate action kits with Microbits to code solutions for environmental challenges.

The schools in attendance were Red Cliffs Secondary College, Chaffey Secondary College, Merbein P10, Trinity Lutheran College, Irymple Secondary College, and St. Joseph’s College, Mildura.

Watch the STEM Idols 2022 reflection Video here:

STEM Idols 2023

Building on Success with Practical Workshops and Industry Collaboration

Event Overview:

Building on the success of the inaugural event, STEM Idols 2023 continued to empower Year 9 girls with insights and hands-on experiences in STEM. The event aimed to bridge the gender gap in STEM education by exploring the intersection of agriculture and STEM.

STEM Idols 2023 integrated a hands-on Ag STEM Workshop followed by guest speaker presentations.

Key Features:

  • Date and Venue: The event took place on August 9, 2023, at the Mildura Sporting Precinct.
  • Participation: The event attracted 60 talented Year 9 girls, 10 science teachers, and 5 Industry Guest Presenters.
  • Format: NMLLEN collaborated with Agriculture Victoria to organise “Get into Digi AgSTEM” workshops where students constructed digital moisture sensors and analysed data for precision decision-making.

During the workshops, students were actively involved in the construction of digital moisture sensors. Led by Anna-Leisa Vietz (Community Education Manager) and Dr. Gabriela Constanza Martinez Ortiz (Community engagement officer) from Agriculture Victoria Research, the workshop allowed the students to delve into the practical aspects of sensor technology, understanding the intricate components and mechanisms involved in measuring soil moisture levels. The construction process included assembling electronic components, programming, and calibrating the sensors. Once the students successfully constructed the digital moisture sensors, the workshops progressed to the next crucial phase – data analysis.

Participants were introduced to the significance of data-driven decision-making, a fundamental aspect of various STEM fields. They engaged in the analysis of data collected by the sensors, interpreting the information to make precise decisions related to efficient water use.

The Digital AgSTEM workshop was followed by presentations from guest speakers where they discussed their career paths and how their work relates to STEM. 20 olive plants were generously donated by Agromillora Australia for this workshop.

Expanded Reach:

An additional Get into AgSTEM workshop at Robinvale College attracted 27 students, including participants from Manangatang P-12 College.

Robinvale College and Manangatang P-12 students participating in the Ag Vic STEM Workshop hosted at Robinvale college

In summary, the workshops conducted in collaboration with Agriculture Victoria were a cornerstone of STEM Idols 2023, providing students with a dynamic and engaging platform to develop practical STEM skills, fostering a deeper understanding of data analysis, and showcasing the real-world applications of STEM in agriculture.

Guest Speakers:

 • Dr. Santhi Kumari, Director of the Anaesthesia Department and Deputy Director ICU at Mildura Base Public Hospital

Dr. Kumari, leading the Anaesthesia Department, oversees critical patient care beyond surgery, emphasizing the application of STEM principles in healthcare.

 • Dr. Zelmari Coetzee, Senior Research Scientist at Agriculture Victoria Research

Dr. Coetzee spearheads innovative agricultural research at Agriculture Victoria, contributing to advancements in viticulture and productivity.

Leigh Krake, Project Engineer at Mildura Rural City Council As a Project Engineer

Leigh Krake brings diverse expertise in civil and chemical engineering, showcasing tools like the Theodolite to foster interest in engineering.

 • Dr. Jessica Lye, Citrus Biosecurity Manager at Citrus Australia:

Dr. Lye’s role in managing biosecurity for Citrus Australia highlights the crucial need for pest and disease monitoring in the Horticulture Industry.

Julienne Krake, Water Quality Technologist at Lower Murray Water: 

Julienne Krake’s position as a Water Quality Technologist emphasizes the importance of maintaining and monitoring water quality in the region, reflecting the practical applications of STEM in environmental sciences.

Both 2022 and 2023 STEM Idols event were emceed by Janet Pietsch, Retired Principal and Science Teacher, Irymple Secondary College and led by NMLLEN Project Officer Monica Trehan. Thanks to all the industry speakers, schools, students and NMLLEN staff for supporting the STEM Idols initiative.
Idols. Northern Mallee LLEN’s continues to exemplify its commitment to fostering STEM education for Year 9 girls through inspirational insights, hands-on experiences, and industry collaboration, paving the way for a more inclusive and diverse future in STEM fields.

Student Testimonials

 “I learnt how to successfully put together a moister level tester using computer programming and learn about the many different career pathways on option in the agricultural and science field. I was interested in the guest speakers’ stories and took note of how many of the speakers said that they didn’t do particularly well in school but still had successful jobs that they loved. I am now aware of more career opportunities and attending the STEM Idols event has furthered my interest in Agriculture and Science.”

Sienna, Ouyen P12 College

“I gained a lot of knowledge on how people use various technologies to help have a successful harvest. I really enjoyed the event where we made the soil moisture testing machine. STEM Idols 2023 really helped me get a solid idea of my future career pathway.”

– Arunadi- St. Joseph’s College

“I learnt things such as the different work places there are out there and i got the opportunity to hear from skilled professionals which helped to inspire me to possibly follow a career path into Ag STEM. I liked when we were doing that activity with testing moisture, it was hands on and easy to learn – valuable information and got people intrigued. It enhanced my interest in that area of work and it’s definitely a future pathway I am looking into.”

– Sarah, Ouyen P12 College

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