Drone workshops for Australian schools

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Diversity within the work place is a hot topic, with many governments vowing to improve gender pay gaps and hire a more diverse range of people at senior levels. This is an end that science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) specialists She Maps have been trying to achieve for a while now, and with their most recent collaboration with the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS), they are inching ever closer to success.

She Maps will be partnering with the RFDS, taking drone workshop programmes across Australia in order to encourage young children to take up careers in aviation, geospatial science and other STEM-related subjects. The RFDS opened their Rockhampton hangar base to allow school girls to become drone pilots for the day.

Trent Dean, Queensland Head of Clinical Governance, said: "Hopefully with the relationship with She Maps, and more broadly with the drone world, RFDS will attract a new workforce going forward.” He added that having kids in at such a young age – ‘when they’re most impressionable’ – was a truly unique opportunity for them to demonstrate their skill sets. "We're aiming to have a few clinic days where we go out to rural and remote areas, and that's where the kids will also have the opportunity in the far-west regions, to be involved in these sorts of activities as well.”

She Maps Education Director Dr Karen Joyce noted: "My long-term goal is – instead of people always visualising a scientist as being someone who works with a white lab coat and test tubes – that they actually think that science is a little bit broader and more diverse than that." She added that, although this might not necessarily be something that they get out of a two-hour programme, it may at least open their eyes to the option of working with drones (or any other STEM role) as a career path.

Carolyn Overy, RFDS Rockhampton base Clinical Operation Manager, said that she felt it was particularly important for kids that live outside of the city to be given these kind of opportunities, and She Maps Managing Director Paul Mead also commented on the importance of this: "We decided to remove that transport [cost], so we're doing a road trip, and we turn up and deliver our programmes for the same price as what we would deliver them for in Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne. That really helps to give our regional students the same opportunities as our metro students."

Dr Joyce also noted that the RFDS is an organisation that is interested in diversity and that wants to push it in their workforce. She added: "I think, for girls of this generation, there are so many opportunities out there for them and nothing is out of limits, and I think this just shows what is available for them."

Dr Joyce also went on to illustrate the massive gender imbalance in aviation careers in Australia: "About six per cent of aviation pilots in Australia are female and about one per cent of drone pilots are female." She also pointed out that the percentage is a little higher overall in STEM careers – just over 20 per cent. However, this diversity figure could still do with a magnitude of improvement, especially on the engineering side, where Joyce notes that diversity is particularly low.

Tackling diversity in STEM industries by educating and inspiring a younger generation is an ingenious solution, touring the drone programme to regional locations as well as cities will hopefully not only balance both ethnic and gender diversity within the STEM landscape in the long-run, but will also encourage a new generation of enthusiastic, innovative STEM thinkers.

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