STEM study encouraged as Kerry Chant wins NSW Woman of the Year

Wednesday, 10 March, 2021

STEM study encouraged as Kerry Chant wins NSW Woman of the Year

In the wake of International Women’s Day on 8 March, Australian governments have been acknowledging the contributions of women to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), as well as announcing incentives to join the sector.

On the day itself, the federal government announced that it is extending the Women in STEM Cadetships and Advanced Apprenticeships Program, which encourages Australian women to study STEM subjects while they’re working. The program provides grants to higher education providers to deliver a range of qualifications that employees can undertake part-time, alongside employment.

Minister for Education and Youth Alan Tudge said the program upskills Australian women by allowing them to combine work and study to get a qualification in STEM, noting that getting qualifications in these areas will give participants important skills that can help them get ahead in their current role and help them find future jobs. He said the program’s popularity has led to the number of places increasing from 500 to 600.

“We want and need more women in STEM, and increasing the number of places available in this program will help us move towards that goal,” said Tudge.

Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews said the program will encourage higher education providers to connect with industry, adding that STEM skills are increasingly important across the economy.

“STEM skills will be in high demand as the future of work evolves, so increasing the number of women in STEM is an economic imperative as well as the right thing to do,” said Andrews.

The $25 million program is part of the 2020–21 Budget. A total of 37 STEM courses were approved in a recent application round, including an Associate Degree of Engineering, Diploma of Applied Data Science, Advanced Diploma of Cyber Security, Diploma of Science and Associate Degree in Agribusiness.

Two days later, the NSW Government held the 2021 NSW Women of the Year Awards, in order to recognise and celebrate the outstanding contribution made by women across the state to industry, communities and society. The virtual awards ceremony saw NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant named the NSW Premier’s Woman of the Year, as well as winning the NSW Woman of Excellence Award.

With a keen interest in communicable diseases prevention and control, Indigenous health and bloodborne virus infections, Dr Chant has held senior positions in NSW Health since 1991. She is currently the longest serving NSW Chief Health Officer, dedicated to improving lives and building a healthier state through her leadership across numerous public health issues. Since the COVID-19 outbreak began, she has been on the frontline of the state’s pandemic health strategy to keep the community safe.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr Chant has been a familiar face, offering vital health information for our state in addition to years of service to the health sector,” said NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

“Dr Chant is a role model, especially for women, and has absolutely excelled in her chosen field to affect lasting change.”

The NSW Young Woman of the Year Award meanwhile went to another member of the STEM sector — Dr Samantha Wade, from the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute and the University of Wollongong.

Dr Wade worked on a team which developed a drug delivery device aimed at improving outcomes for pancreatic cancer patients. Pancreatic cancer has a five-year survival rate of just 10%, but the new device has the potential to make more cases curable and help patients avoid major surgery.

“I could see that the current ways of treating pancreatic cancer were ineffective and the side effects outweighed the benefits,” Dr Wade said. “Over the past six years, I’ve worked as part of a team under Dr Kara Vine-Perrow to design, develop and patent a novel implantable drug delivery device that is designed to be implanted inside a tumour,” Dr Wade said.

“This allows the chemotherapy to be delivered locally to the tumour, which allows for effective treatment of the tumour without the extreme side effects. While still a way off translation into humans, we have seen some promising results in preclinical animal studies.”

NSW Minister for Women Bronnie Taylor said the NSW Women of the Year Awards are a highlight of NSW Women’s Week (8–14 March) and congratulated all winners in 2021.

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