Unveiling STEM Success: Key Takeaways from International Day of Women and Girls in Science Panels

On February 7th, 2024, SEAMEO STEM-ED, the International Labour Organization (ILO), and Rajamangala University of Technology Lanna (RMUTL), supported by J.P. Morgan, came together to honour the International Day of Women and Girls in Science with a groundbreaking hybrid seminar. Held at RMUTL in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and streamed live on YouTube, the event attracted over 1,000 participants, both in-person and online. Celebrating the theme of diversity and excellence, the seminar showcased a dynamic lineup of women and girls excelling in various STEM fields. Notably, the event served as a cornerstone of the ILO Women in STEM Workforce Readiness and Development Programme, featuring two distinct panels that highlighted how STEM-related knowledge and skills will be pioneering forces for future professions.

The hybrid seminar celebrated the United Nations' International Day for Women and Girls in Science, spotlighting empowerment efforts led by SEAMEO STEM-ED and our collaborative partners. The event showcased inspiring speakers who excel in their respective fields, serving as successful role models for women and girls in Southeast Asia.

TVET in Southeast Asia, some call it “A game changer” while others agree on its occupational relevancy

One type of education that is highly emphasized in many Southeast Asian countries is Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) since it plays a crucial role in preparing individuals for skilled employment in various sectors. A specialist from the National Technical Education and Skills Development Plan (NTESDP, Philippines), Ms Honeylet T. Espino shed light on the addition of STEM approach into TVET from the case of the Philippines in her presentation “Overview on STEM in TVET in Southeast Asian Countries (Philippines).”

Ms Espino pointed out that STEM in TVET is highly relevant to 21st-century skills, which encompass employability, proactive citizenship, and human flourishing. At its core, STEM competencies go beyond mere knowledge and skills; they also encompass multi-literacy and social-emotional skills, preparing individuals for the demands of a rapidly evolving workforce.

In the Philippines, TVET occupies a prominent position on the national agenda, exemplified by initiatives like the TVET PH 4.0 Framework, aimed at enhancing global competitiveness and workforce readiness. Here, the NTESDP specialist highlighted the importance of integrating STEM into TVET to enrich core competencies with STEM knowledge and social-emotional skills. Emphasising the need to adapt STEM content to evolving societal needs, she underscored the importance of revisiting and updating STEM components within training regulations and competency standards to align them with the demands of future job markets.

In the Malaysian context, Dr Mas Sahidayana Mohktar from Universiti Malaya (UM) STEM Centre represented Mr Ahmad Fairuz Bin Yusof, a Principal Assistant Director Technical Vocational Education and Training Division Malaysia presentation on “Advancing the Development of TVET.” She first underlined the nation’s focus where the Malaysian Prime Minister underscored the country’s transformation.

She further explained the aim to transform TVET into an enabling industrialised programme in Malaysia. This transformation is crucial to ensure that TVET graduates are equipped for employment opportunities and future career progression. For instance, the 12th Malaysian Plan outlines policies aimed at enhancing TVET education, recognizing its importance in nurturing the future talent of the country. The efforts here, included resetting mindsets towards TVET sectors, strengthening their inclusivity and well-being, and advancing the sustainability of TVET pathways. Malaysia is prioritizing the development of a robust TVET ecosystem to reduce dependence on foreign workers in certain sectors. Under the Ministry of Education, there are six types of TVET providers, including the Malaysia Vocational Diploma offered through Vocational Colleges.

Meanwhile, Dr Nopadon Maneetien, a Director at the College of Integrated Science and Technology, Rajamangala University of Technology Lanna (RMUTL) in Chiang Mai, discussed Thailand's shared objective in STEM education and Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) with other Southeast Asian countries. He suggested that despite numerous organizations and agencies addressing TVET and science, there is a need for a standardized plan. Dr Maneetien emphasized the necessity for this plan to be ingrained in students' minds.

Panel filled with success stories and lessons from adept women

Continuing from the TVET session, the hybrid seminar transitioned into a panel presentation and discussion featuring women leaders. The participants in this session included Ms Pia Azarcon, who serves as Director and Managing Partner at IBM Consulting Domestic Markets, Philippines; Ms Katharina Ueltschi, Director of Bernina Pte. Ltd., Singapore; and Ms Sattiya Langkhapin, Chief of Party at the Education Development Center (EDC), Thailand.

Ms Azarcon, a seasoned veteran with IBM for 21 years, shared her extensive career journey during the seminar, detailing her diverse roles across sales, operations, and leadership in both technology and services. Her narrative highlighted the proactive approach she took in seeking growth opportunities, emphasizing the importance of continuous learning and purpose-driven work. Additionally, she discussed IBM's commitment to STEM education and diversity, underscoring the company's initiatives to infuse these skills into its workforce. Pia's journey exemplifies how dedication and a proactive mindset can pave the way for sustained success and personal fulfillment.

Katharina Ueltschi, Bernina's Director, shared her remarkable journey during the seminar, reflecting on her transition from university to the family business. Over a decade, she honed her skills at Montblanc, taking on diverse roles every two years, demonstrating her proactive approach to career advancement. Despite the challenges of shifting business focus from the West to Southeast Asia, Katharina established Bernina Singapore Private Limited in 2018. She navigated the traditional image of sewing machines by developing educational programmes to promote STEM education, both in Singapore and across South Asia. Katharina's story underscores the importance of seizing opportunities, challenging oneself, and leveraging personal and familial experiences to drive innovation and empower others, embodying the transformative power of purpose-driven work and lifelong learning.

Another prominent curriculum designer and Chief of Party, Education Development Center (EDC), Thailand, Ms Sattiya Langkhapin, told the audience that she embarked on her academic journey studying biochemistry at Cambridge University, where she drew inspiration from pioneering women scientists like Rosalind Franklin. After internships at Imperial College London and involvement in the "Women in Science" project, she discovered her passion for education.

From this point, she transitioned from a government role to the private sector where she managed a CSR programme at Intel Thailand, fostering innovation and partnerships. Currently, as Chief of the Party, she leads projects across Southeast Asia, including youth workforce development initiatives supported by the JP Morgan Foundation. Her diverse experiences underscore the importance of informed decision-making and continuous learning in shaping a successful career path.

"My advice to you is that never make a career decision blindly. You should talk to people, you test the environment, you do research, and you try to be in the atmosphere, and then you take the risk. You climb the mountain, you do difficult things, and you will fail, and you would learn from it. This is the career journey. It will not always be smooth, some of you may have a very smooth career journey, and you may break your career charts, but several of you would face challenges. It's the resilience, it's the skills to be able to learn from your failure that would put you forward," Ms Langkhapin ended her talks.

Admirable examples from two passionate souls

A 'Panel Conversation 2: Empowering Women and Girls in STEM' featured two young souls who are determined to imprint a mark on this world. First, Ms Panusri Tantawanit (Ping Ping), a Pre-Engineering Students College of Integrated Science and Technology Rajamangala University of Technology Lanna (RMUTL) Chiang Mai Thailand, shared her journey of transitioning from viewing learning as a necessity to embracing it as a personal interest, particularly in the field of physics and pre-engineering. Initially daunted by the complexity of physics, Ping Ping found inspiration in the interconnectedness of science, recognising the wonder of human existence through a scientific lens. This shift in perspective propelled her towards pursuing STEM education with passion and determination.

Additionally, another girl who embarked on the scientific endeavors, Ms Murina Binti Bakry from Vokasional Jabatan Teknologi Pembuatan Makanan, Institut Kemahiran Belia Negara (IKBN) Naka (Malaysia) highlighted challenges in implementing educational programmes, particularly in familiarizing students with coursework. Despite obstacles, her commitment to empowering students in STEM remains unwavering. Collectively, their messages underscore the importance of transcending gender stereotypes, focusing on personal interest and persistence, and overcoming challenges to foster inclusivity and excellence in STEM education.

At last, Asst Prof Dr Malaiporn Wongkaew, a Lecturer from Programme of Food and Innovation, College of Integrated Science and Technology, Rajamangala University (Thailand), who holds a doctorate and bachelor's degrees in biotechnology and biochemical studies, respectively, contributed her story into the forum. She explained that she possessed approximately 13 years of experience in food engineering production and innovation. Despite these fields not aligning directly with her degrees, she values lifelong learning and endeavors to apply her knowledge across various levels.

Since 2015, Dr Wongkaew has spearheaded a program addressing challenges in integrating engineering, mathematics, and science theories for students studying food engineering production and innovation. Collaborating with other educators, she facilitated partnerships with nearby research centers, utilizing them as pilot-scale factories for practical student learning. Through this initiative, she integrated five subjects into the semester, combining classroom lectures with practical experiences.

In this journey, she initiated projects where students tackled real-world problems, such as optimizing Chinese sausage processing techniques. This hands-on approach fosters interdisciplinary collaboration and innovation, highlighting her dedication to both teaching and research in the field of food science.

In summary, the hybrid seminar highlighted the significance of empowering women and girls in STEM. With over 1,000 participants, the event emphasized the integration of STEM into Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET), showcased inspiring career journeys of successful women leaders, and underscored the importance of perseverance and inclusivity in fostering excellence in STEM education. Overall, the seminar served as a platform to celebrate achievements and reaffirm the commitment to creating an inclusive and diverse STEM workforce for the future.

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Read 𝐄𝐦𝐩𝐨𝐰𝐞𝐫𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐆𝐢𝐫𝐥𝐬: 𝐒𝐩𝐨𝐭𝐥𝐢𝐠𝐡𝐭 𝐨𝐧 𝐖𝐨𝐦𝐞𝐧 𝐋𝐞𝐚𝐝𝐞𝐫𝐬 𝐢𝐧 𝐀𝐒𝐄𝐀𝐍 𝐒𝐓𝐄𝐌 here.

The International Day of Women and Girls in Science was established by the United Nations General Assembly in December 2015, to recognize the critical role women and girls play in science and promote gender equality in STEM fields. This initiative was championed by organisations such as UNESCO and UN Women, along with numerous governments and stakeholders globally, as part of broader efforts to advance women's rights and opportunities in all areas of society.

More information:

https://www.un.org/en/observances/women-and-girls-in-science-day?fbclid=IwAR03kgR6IXQCUsJ9Fm2PMf2M-X6JRPLhHR0NRPlKLbW2GSIH2bRdYu4Pqb0

ILO is The International Labour Organization (ILO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations that focuses on promoting social justice and fair labor practices worldwide. Established in 1919, the ILO develops and sets international labor standards, encourages decent working conditions, and fosters social protection and dialogue between employers, workers, and governments to address global labor challenges. The organisation aims to advance the well-being of workers globally and promote equal opportunities, fair wages, and humane working conditions.

More information: https://www.ilo.org/global/

RMUTL is Rajamangala University of Technology Lanna (RMUTL) stands as Thailand's premier institution for vocational education. With a commitment to fostering students of global caliber, RMUTL equips them with the practical skills to apply scientific and technological principles in their respective fields. This is achieved through an immersive, hands-on learning approach that prepares graduates for real-world challenges.

More information about RMUTL: https://www.rmutl.ac.th/

Watch the full event: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_g9ri1E7n98&ab_channel=SEAMEOSTEM-EDCentre&fbclid=IwAR1uDSxY9OkfxjynSda_SWfUBFOvNl2eRY-fbYztU_BYtQ5frkA8OmIQ7JQ

 

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