Regional Development Australia (RDA) Hunter recently welcomed 2019 recipient of Member of the Order of Australia, 2012 Young Australian of the Year, Engineer and Entrepreneur, Marita Cheng to Newcastle on Wednesday 19 June.
Addressing 55 students from Merewether High School, San Clemente High School and Newcastle High School, the Year 7 – 10 girls listened to Marita talk about her upbringing, education, career and passion for promoting participation by women in STEM fields.
Born in Cairns, Marita grew up with her brother and single-parent Mother who encouraged her to participate in everything from playing piano to basketball while also having a passion for reading and learning.
“Mum was very encouraging growing up, she always encouraged me and my brother to participate and try everything there was on offer,” said Marita.
Though, despite her strong love and passion for reading, Marita found herself attracted to Maths and Sciences and the opportunities these subjects offered because, as she described them, they are “a global language that can take you anywhere”.
Graduating from school in 2006 in the top 0.2% of the nation, Marita went on to further study at the University of Melbourne and completed a Bachelor of Engineering (Mechatronics)/Bachelor of Computer Science. Through her studies Marita realised there was a significant lack of representation of females within the Engineering industry.
“When I finished school, 3 out of the 200 girls in my Year 12 class went into Engineering at University. I thought once I got to University there would be more girls in my class. I was wrong, there were 4 girls out of 150 students in Mechatronics and Science at the University of Melbourne.”
From this her passion for promoting opportunities for girls in STEM, particularly robotics, started. After winning entrepreneur program in her second year of University, the idea for RoboGALS came to fruition.
After rounding up her fellow engineering peers, Marita and friends went to schools to teach girls robotics through workshops, career talks and other community activities to introduce young women to engineering.
“My thoughts on RoboGALS was, why impact one school when we can impact them all,” said Marita.
While on academic exchange at Imperial College in London, Marita expanded RoboGALS to the UK before returning to Australia and through innovation, perseverance and sheer will further expanded the organisation to the USA, Japan and eventually the Philippines.
“There were many, many learnings throughout this process, but the one thing I can take away from the experience was it’s okay to fail, as long as you learn from your mistakes.”
RoboGALS has now taught over 100,000 girls from 11 countries and has 32 chapters across the world.
Marita is currently the Founder and CEO of aubot (formerly 2Mar Robotics) which makes a telepresence robot, Teleport, for kids with cancer in hospital to attend school, people with a disability to attend work and to monitor and socialise with elderly people.
Splitting her time between Melbourne and technology and innovation mecca, San Francisco, Marita is passionate about the opportunities within robotics and how they can improve the lives of people.
At the completion of her presentation, Marita mingled and networked with the students over lunch which was an opportunity for the girls to ask her further questions.
The opportunity to host Marita was made possible by the NSW Government’s Investing in Women program through the Department of Family and Community Services. It was the final workshop in RDA Hunter’s Women in STEM Project for 2018/19.