Preparing girls for the future in our fast-changing and increasingly complex world is at the forefront of Penrhos College’s mission. Here, students are empowered and equipped with the confidence and skillsets to problem-solve, collaborate, innovate and become leaders. In recent years, the importance of study in STEM-related areas and the development of associated skillsets has become increasingly significant. Research indicates that more than half the jobs for our next generation have not been invented yet – what we do know is they will be heavily focused in STEM-related fields, an area in which females are significantly under-represented across the globe.
Penrhos considers that learning experiences beyond the classroom further inspire girls to identify and make the most of their future career potential and opportunities. “We want our students to consider their options in the knowledge they are well-positioned to pursue their dreams, interests and aspirations without regard for the gender stereotyping which may remain attached to certain careers or industries,” says Penrhos Principal, Kalea Haran.
In order to provide real-life insight into what a future career in a STEM-related field might entail, Penrhos participates in an annual Girls in Engineering Outreach Program with the University of Western Australia. Students work with a team of female mentors from Rio Tinto, whose new Chief Executive, Australia, Kellie Parker - coincidentally - is a Penrhos College alumna. The outreach program’s ‘Greater Hope Downs 4 site visit’ helps to illustrate the need for girls to think beyond the conventional, in a shift towards career choices of which they may have previously been unaware.
“Our mission is to not only provide students with theoretical perspectives, but to expose them to real-world experience and practical application,” continues Kalea Haran. “The more we are able to engage our girls in authentic career learning experiences, the more they are able to identify their areas of interest and the full spectrum of opportunities available.”
Rio Tinto has been founding sponsor for UWA’s Girls in Engineering Outreach Program since 2012, as part of its commitment to promoting female participation in STEM and to supporting female representation and success in the workforce. “It’s an incredible opportunity for young women to experience engineering outside of the classroom,”
Outreach Coordinator Madeline Hermawan explains. The program includes mine site visits, along with talks from a range of mentors across the industry - mining and mechatronics engineers, facilities managers, drill and blast operators, emergency services staff and environmental advisors. “Real-life experience is absolutely invaluable,” explains Kathryn Serjeanston, Drill and Blast Superintendent, “it’s important we do whatever we can to support more female interest in STEM-related careers in WA.”
Penrhos has seen a substantial increase in the number of its graduates going on to study for STEM-related degrees. “For our students, having access to industry experience is making an impact beyond academia,” says Kalea Haran. “We want to promote pathways that are accessible and achievable - working in collaboration with industry and universities in the nurture of STEM-based education is vital in illustrating what is possible. Cutting-edge College facilities, outreach initiatives like Girls in Engineering, and a range of innovative internal programs are complemented by ongoing in-classroom support from learning enhancement and career advisory teams.”
In addition to being well-established as a WA destination College for girls with an interest in STEM, Penrhos is also one of the top schools for Mathematics Specialist, the highest ATAR level course for Maths in the country. On an international stage, Penrhos girls compete in the highly respected World Mathematics Team Championships, taking gold and bronze medals in 2020. The Penrhos Maths Mentor extension program goes beyond teaching and learning to help students discover a fascination for maths exploration, through collaboration, mentoring between secondary and junior students, and engagement with alumni who have built their careers around their love of maths. Whereas there is arguably a continuing societal perception that the subject of Mathematics remains difficult and unpopular in the learning environment, Penrhos takes pride in challenging the norm by growing a culture that is focused on promoting curiosity and fascination over and above academic results. Head of Maths, Tim Birrell, says “where there is a love of Maths, success will follow. Our mentoring program sets out to inspire girls from the youngest age, and to consistently demonstrate the connection between classroom learning and its application in the real world so that our girls may pursue their dreams with confidence.”
Principal Kalea Haran says Penrhos will continue to shatter stereotypes, challenge convention and open doors to future opportunities for girls. “The theme of International Women’s Day 2021 – choose to challenge – sits perfectly with the Penrhos ethos. We want to encourage our girls to be positive rebels and change makers – to constructively test the status quo, to non-conform and to always fail smart in pursuit of their goals.”