Marita Cheng is passionate about engineering. She was raised in far north Queensland then went to Uni in Melbourne where she established Robogals. She is doing exactly what our Chief Scientist, Ian Chubb, is exhorting Australian parents and teachers to do – getting kids interested in and studying science and technology!
Today Robogals is an international student-run organisation that aims to increase the number of young women taking up engineering. Its primary activity is robotics workshops aimed at girls in primary and secondary school.
Robogals was originally founded as a 2008 student club at the University of Melbourne by a group of female engineers in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering.
After some conversations between Marita and the then Head of Electrical Engineering, A/Prof. Jamie Evans, the original idea was to run a LEGO robotics competition for girls schools around Melbourne to increase interest in engineering. The teams would be supported with training in the lead-up to the competition.
Following some initial successes in Melbourne, the organisation was expanded throughout Australia in 2009 by inviting female engineering students from four more universities around Australia to a three day ‘Bootcamp’ at Melbourne Uni where they learned how to run a Robogals chapter at their home university.
This process has been repeated several times since then to expand Robogals to 16 universities worldwide as of 2011.
Robogalsnow has chapters at 20 universities across Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, Ireland, the Netherlands and Japan. It uses fun and educational activities to teach schoolgirls about engineering and the difference that engineers make to our lives.
In 2009, Robogals’ Guinness World Record attempt for the ‘largest robot dance’ received significant media coverage, including on national television. Over 300 dancers/students turned up at the mass robot dance, held Melbourne Uni.
Robogals’ global headquarters is in Melbourne and the organisation is supported through in-kind and cash contributions from host universities and engineering industry sponsors. Sponsors include CSIRO, GE Energy, Leighton Holdings, Beck Engineering, the Cochlear Foundation, Google and NICTA. Robogals in the UK is sponsored by National Grid.
Marita studied for a Bachelor of Engineering and a Bachelor of Computer Science on a Paterson Scholarship. She has a Nancy Fairfax Churchill Fellowship, an International Youth Foundation YouthActionNet Fellowship and an Anita Borg Change Agent Award.
A former panellist on ABC TV’s New Inventors program, Marita plans to start a robotics company, creating robots that will take care of many everyday and mundane tasks. Already she has changed the way that girls view their capacity to contribute to engineering and technology.
In 2012 Marita was named the Young Australian of the Year.
Very well done Marita!