School holiday drone camps are encouraging Darwin girls towards careers in STEM

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Email School holiday drone camps are encouraging Darwin girls towards careers in STEM

Posted July 12, 2017 10:11:27

A group of three teenage girls pose with a drone inside one of the obstacle course loops they have learned to fly through. Photo: Jacqueline Luntungan, Jordan Jones and Peggy Tom are keen to learn about drones. (ABC Radio Darwin: Mark Rigby) Related Story: Whale migration brings unwanted drone attention Related Story: Did you get a drone for Christmas? Know the law before you take to the skies Map: Darwin 0800

School holidays used to be about playing quoits with the kids down the street, but for around 50 girls from Darwin this mid-year break has been a real buzz.

The girls aged between 10 and 17 have been taking part in She Flies drone camps where they learn to pilot and program drones.

But the camps were about more than just learning to fly for fun, according to She Flies co-founder and chief education officer Karen Joyce.

"What we're doing here this week is actually not even about the drones," she said.

Dr Karen Joyce peers at the camera from behind a drone in her indoor hangar at James Cook University's Cairns campus. Photo: Dr Karen Joyce often uses drones to map and survey the Great Barrier Reef. (ABC Far North: Mark Rigby)

"It is about science and technology and empowering girls to become involved in it.

"The fact that people love to fly just helps us out, it's just the vehicle that we use to tell the story."

When she is not running drone camps, Dr Joyce is a senior lecturer at James Cook University in Cairns and one of the few female academics in her field.

"Only about 16 per cent of science and technology graduates in Australia are female," Dr Joyce said.

She and her colleagues estimated that only about 1 per cent of Australia's professional drone pilots were female.

"It's really important for girls, and boys as well, to get involved in science and technology as that's what's going to be driving Australia's future economy."

21st-century cool

Drone camp participants Jacqueline Luntungan, Jordan Jones and Peggy Tom all have different dream jobs, but they know they want to be involved in STEM in one way or another.

Peggy, 16, said she had a particular interest in mathematics and coding the drones had been the most enjoyable part of the camp.

"It was actually really hard at first because I didn't know anything about coding," she said.

"But once I got the hang of it, it was actually pretty fun."

A line of girls aged between 10 and 17 focus intently on the small drones they are flying with tablet-style controllers. Photo: Flying drones demands the full attention of pilots and cooperation between team members. (ABC Radio Darwin: Mark Rigby)

The camp was an eye opener for 15-year-old Jordan, who said she had never realised how many professions used drones.

"Learning about how far they can take drone technology is pretty cool," she said.

Jacqueline, 14, said she hoped to have an impact on the gender imbalance of science and technology professionals in Australia and around the world.

"Sexism has been taking its toll on women in science since well before the 21st century," she said.

"It's been decreasing but it's still going on a lot and these sorts of STEM subjects are important because they teach us the basics.

"And we have to know the basics to pursue an occupation in the future."

Finding friendships

Dr Joyce said aside from encouraging young women to get involved in STEM subjects and careers, drone camps also taught them a few life lessons.

"One of my favourite aspects of this is actually watching the girls work together [and] learning to work in teams," she said.

"They need to deal with problems that arise within their team and get into conflict resolution.

A small drone hovers in mid air as a crowd of girls aged between 10 and 17 look on in the background. Photo: She Flies drone workshops in Darwin teach girls how to operate drones safely around other people. (ABC Radio Darwin: Mark Rigby)

"Most of these girls come here without knowing anybody at all, so it's really rewarding to see them build friendships."

In light of a number of recent high-profile drone-related incidents, Dr Joyce said the workshops taught young women how to operate drones safely.

She said drones could be thought of in the same way computers were only a generation ago.

"They're still a little bit new, but the further we get into the technology the more they become common place.

"It's pretty easy to go out and buy a drone off the shelf, so if the girls do that we want to be sure they know how to be safe with it."

Topics: science, science-and-technology, women, safety-education, darwin-0800

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