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Mikayla Stokes

Mikayla is a 16-year-old high school student who has a found a love for STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) and strives to help other kids discover this interest too.

Mikayla StokesWhat do you do on an average work day?

Well, I go to school at Western Springs College for like 6 hours a day, which is great fun.

When I am not doing my homework, I play and coach my school badminton team, work on my robots and science projects and sometimes just research random science and tech things that have sparked my interest. 

I volunteer and lead the robotics work shop for OMGTech! - an organisation that encourages kids (especially lower decile) to delve into the world of technology and science.

I also sometimes volunteer to help out with Startup Weekend, a 54-hour event where people with different skills come together to take ideas and develop them into ventures.

What are you studying at high school?

I am studying Calculus, Physics, Chemistry, Digital Technology and English. Often I am the only girl in some of these classes, but it drives me to work that little bit harder to get more girls into tech and science.  

Are your studies related to what you do now or what you want to do as a career?

In the future I would love to become a Mechatronics Engineer (making and coding robots), possibly with some aspects of product design.

My subjects do help with what I want to do, but unfortunately lack the creative and applicable side of being able to make and create things to solve a problem. Doing robotics and science projects at home does let me explore this, but I would love it if engineering - the idea of using these skills to solve a real problem - was more incorporated into my subjects at school.

What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now?

Go for it! There are vast opportunities within STEM careers. One big thing is to not let stereotypes of who can do STEM affect your choices. Experience them for yourself. Don’t be afraid to try new things, ask questions or be different. 

Back when I was 12, I thought robotics and science was a boring thing that was only ever meant for the geeky boys. I let what other people thought about it hold me back from what is now one of my favourite things in the world. But once I gave it a go, I realised it was nothing like I had thought it was- it was fun, I got to make things and solve real life problems. 

Also don’t be afraid to go and ask for help - find a mentor. I have met heaps of people in the tech sector who have helped me with little bumps along the road, which builds up to having access to a broad and diverse range of experience, knowledge, support and help. 

Mikayla with robot

What are some of your career highlights so far?

Last year I made a sensor which detected carbon pollution in the air, using Arduinos and IOT (Internet of Things). I entered into the 2016 BrightSparks Competition, and won the Supreme Female Winner award, which was really cool!

I am also now the student representative on the board of OMGTech!. It has been great getting involved with the organisation in this way and being able to see how all our hard work is brought forward to help and make a change in the world.

I have also had a few opportunities to do some public presentations on encouraging girls into tech, which has been an amazing opportunity.

Why do you believe engaging in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is important to New Zealand?

It is really important. At OMGTech! we want every Kiwi kid to have the opportunity and resources to learn about tech and science. What I really love about what I do there, is being able to completely transform how someone views STEM in just a day. We give the kids what I like to call a “wow” or “light-bulb” moment.
They often have the perceived and stereotypical idea that STEM is just a bunch of boring numbers and school work. Even I shared this view at some point. But then they come to OMGTech! and learn that it is also a bunch of fun: 3D-printing, programming robots, breaking apart computers, cool science experiments, and coding your own games. 

There's this creativity and curiosity about STEM that isn't necessarily taught in school, and is not widely known. When the kids leave OMGTech! they are ready to go home to share this love we all have of STEM and use it to make the world a better place.

Last year I became quite involved with going along to TAPLab, a makerspace in Te Atatu Peninsula. These makerspaces are community tech labs where anyone can come in and have access to resources and help to make and learn things with tech. This community has introduced me to some great people, and has allowed me to try out some new ideas and side projects. Definitely go along to one if you can!

Mikayla speaking at an event

Why is it important to have more women working in STEM?

We are part of this world too! Anyone should be able to pursue a STEM career, regardless of their race, religion, sexual orientation or gender. 

We are not necessarily “better” at what we do, but we are being completely under-represented in the tech sector. Women bring a different perspective to the STEM community. This diversity creates a broader range of opinions and gives different ways of how to handle problems. 

A thing to look out for, is women in the technology industry being used as “tokens” to meet gender equality quotas. What is important, is that we should be able to feel more accepted, involved and welcome in this environment, which usually seems intimidating and daunting. We need to be acknowledged as having equal value to all projects, not just as a statistic to make a company appear better.

Mikayla is a 16-year-old high-school student who has a found a love for STEM and strives to help other kids discover this interest too. Read more about Mikayla's pollution sensor.

This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM.

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