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UOW student Rhiannon is following her passion for tech and inspiring others along the way.
Rhiannon shares three things she wants every Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) girl to know.
With a maths-loving dad who worked as a programmer, Rhiannon - who is studying a Bachelor of Mathematics - Bachelor of Computer Science double degree - was exposed to technology from a very young age. Technology also gave her a chance to connect and spend quality time with her brother.
"We would always play games on the computer together as kids. He's very autistic - non-verbal - so we don't bond in the usual sibling manner," she says. "This was kind of our way of bonding and communicating. I'd help him with any tricky sections or puzzles and I still do this with him now.
"Computer science and mathematics are both very logical disciplines - they fit nicely together. They're also disciplines for avid puzzlers and problem solvers like myself."
When it came time to choose a university, Rhiannon's impressive HSC results meant she could choose where she wanted to study. With so many options, she turned to maths to find an answer and compared every university statistic she could find. Ultimately, it was UOW's Awards and Rankings that stood out.
"I don't understand what you could want out of your educational experience more than personal satisfaction," she says. Rhiannon also chose UOW because she wanted to join a community that supported each other instead of competing against each other.
"There's so much pressure placed on you in Year 12 that I really wanted to escape that toxic competitiveness," she says. "UOW is a calm environment that everybody thrives in. Your lecturers really make the effort to know you and your goals and point you towards relevant opportunities."
One of those relevant opportunities was the Women TechMaker's Scholar program run by Google. This gave Rhiannon the chance to travel to South Korea to brainstorm ideas of how to improve the representation of women in technology.
"Being a Women TechMaker Scholar is an honour," she says. "The trip was great. I was exhausted by the end of it. Our days were packed with workshops, career panels and networking. We were introduced to a lot of people who were passionate about diversity and enthused by our efforts towards it. All the scholars left feeling really inspired."
Rhiannon has also worked on a project as an undergraduate vacation scholar at CSIRO.
"The project was exciting because it brought together two cool areas of tech - encryption and machine learning. I love encryption because it's a great mix of maths and tech. Machine learning is just as cool. It's a way of teaching computers to learn for themselves. Amazing."
In terms of her degree, Rhiannon is finding the challenges the most rewarding part.
"Cyber security and maths - and the rest of STEM - are challenging degrees that make you think," she says. "Finding the solutions to problems wouldn't be as satisfying without a few hiccups."
While she is currently enjoying learning about encryption and security in her Cyber Security major, Rhiannon is leaving herself open to all career opportunities.
"The great thing about university is that I don't have to know what career I want just yet," she says. "I'm still sifting my way through my degree and discovering the areas that interest me most. I have plenty of time to do this kind of exploring."
Rhiannon has been representing UOW as a STEM Ambassador since the start of her degree.
"It's really rewarding work - our purpose is to inspire younger kids into STEM," she says. "We develop and write workshops on algorithms, robotics, circuits, encryption and everything else. I love that I get to explore areas of STEM not directly related to my degree."
A lot of the work Rhiannon does as a STEM Ambassador is targeted at encouraging younger girls to consider STEM disciplines.
"Increasing the number of women in STEM is important," she says. "Women currently make up less than one-fifth of Australians qualified in STEM. A lack of women and diversity in STEM means a lack of perspective in the technology we are designing."
"You are smarter than you give yourself credit for."
- Rhiannon Bolton
1. Don't doubt yourself "It's not easy to be confident, but you have every reason to be. You are smarter than you give yourself credit for," she says. "STEM is challenging and sometimes it's easier to think we're not cut out for it."
2. You deserve to be here "Don't let anybody ever say you were given a handout or that you got an opportunity because you're a girl," she says. "Comments like these are far too common and dangerous. It's part of the reason so many women leave the STEM industry. Don't get stuck with imposter syndrome."
3. We need you "I've met so many bright young girls who just want to better the world," she says. "This is exactly the attitude you need for STEM. We need your passion and love in the technology we are designing. Technology can have a powerfully positive impact on humanity - we just need people ready to make that impact."
Rhiannon is studying a Bachelor of Mathematics - Bachelor of Computer Science double degree.