Q&A With STEM Advocate Melanie De Gioia

Melanie-De-Gioia-podcast

#women in engineering, engineering, Engineers Australia, podcast, STEM,

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Today, we chat with Melanie De Gioia about her passion for promoting STEM, her podcasting journey, and the current state of STEM in Australia.  

Melanie is the original founder and co-host of the highly successful podcast Engineering Heroes, now owned by Engineers Australia. She is also a Project Manager at the University of Sydney, responsible for the annual Australia-wide Humanitarian Innovation Awards, a hackathon available to all Australian undergraduate university students.

Recently, Melanie launched a specialist STEM podcast production agency, Ramaley Media and runs a number of other podcasts including “Idea Evolution”, “STEMology”, “Engineering Leaders” and “Pitch Your PhD”.  Every podcast Melanie has been involved in revolves around promoting STEM to a global audience.

How did you come up with the idea for your very first podcast series “Engineering Heroes?”

Back in 2018 when I launched this podcast, it was actually called “Beer with an Engineer”.  My husband and co-host, Dominic De Gioia, is an engineer in the building services sector.  He had been increasingly disillusioned by the engineering industry, but more specifically around the lack of understanding the wider community seemed to have towards engineers.

The aim of the podcast was to give engineers a voice.  To give them the opportunity to express their thoughts about engineering.  I wanted to know why they chose to become an engineer, what they were concerned about within the industry, and what their hopes were for the future of engineering.

And that’s exactly what you can expect to hear in every episode of “Beer With An Engineer”/“Engineering Heroes”.

Why did you choose the podcast format over other forms of media?

I fell in love with podcasts.  The time between me discovering podcasts and launching “Beer with an Engineer” was 3 weeks!  I recognised very early on that podcasts were a little bit about entertainment, but a lot about learning something new.  They are an “On Demand” form of entertainment that you don’t need to be glued to a screen to enjoy. 

Juggling my work and family, even during the upheaval of COVID, podcasts have continually just slotted in so easily.  Podcasts are a way to keep my brain ticking over, without having to spend time looking at a screen.

How has producing “Engineering Heroes” changed your life?

Well, without that podcast, I can honestly, hand-on-heart proclaim you would not be reading this article from me right now.  “Beer with an Engineer”/“Engineering Heroes” forced me to re-evaluate my career.  I’d spent 20+ years working on IT projects and within 1 month of starting the podcast, I quit my job with a global IT consulting firm and started work at an engineering think tank connected to the University of Sydney. 

If that wasn’t a big enough change, when I started the podcast, the 4th engineer we had on (but the first female) opened my eyes to the diversity issue within engineering and STEM.  This really sparked my interest in STEM – a field that I was connected to, but had no idea about.  From that time on, I was determined to be a STEM Advocate and try to educate the world on the changes that need to be made.

Do you think society underestimates the role Engineers play in shaping the world we live in?

Yes. Absolutely. And I’m just as much to blame as anyone!

My father is an engineer.  My husband is an engineer.  I have a number of friends who are engineers. And it wasn’t until I started “Beer with an Engineer”/ “Engineering Heroes” that I finally started to understand the vital role engineers have in shaping our world. I couldn’t believe I had been so blind for most of my life.

Therefore, I’m never surprised when someone claims ignorance about what engineers do. People who understand … need to do more.  They need to speak more and share their stories more.

You have recently launched a specialist STEM podcast production agency Ramaley Media. Can you tell us a bit more about your new venture?

Just as with ancient traditions, knowledge is passed down the generations by stories. Modern society is going through a massive shift – we are in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.  Where the Physical World we are so familiar with, is being overlayed by the Digital World. Areas of AI, Data Science and robotics are now commonplace.  And the cornerstones of this change come from Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths.

Yet only 16% of the Australian workforce are educated with a STEM qualification. 

Ramaley Media was created to help people in all these vital STEM industries pass along their stories and to construct their knowledge in such a way as to be entertaining and educational to a wide, global audience.  Stories for the 84% of the Australian workforce who are at risk of being left behind as our world evolves around them.

Ramaley Media creates podcasts for the curious.  People who are curious to learn more about the world around them.  These people will find a happy home with Ramaley because we guarantee that every podcast on our network will be a story from STEM, a story that is being passed down from the people that are shaping our modern world.

You are passionate about promoting STEM to primary school-aged children and have produced a podcast series “Idea Evolution” aimed at this demographic. How can parents encourage children to develop an interest in STEM?

No pressure, but parents are one of the most important influences on a child!  I find that thought equally thrilling and terrifying.  And as a mum of 3 young children, I realise that actions speak so much louder than words.

That’s why we made “Idea Evolution”.  It creates stories that can be enjoyed by kids, but also their parents.  We want families to come together and discover the world around them and ask the big questions – just like we do in the podcast.

So the best and easiest way parents can encourage children to develop an interest in STEM…. is by the parents themselves developing an interest in STEM. While “Idea Evolution” is perfect for kids and their parents, “STEMology” is a great podcast to help nurture an adult’s fascination with the latest discoveries from STEM.

Although STEM participation amongst Australian girls is rising, we still have a long way to go to reach gender equity in this field. How can we attract more women to STEM?

I love how many people are working hard and doing their best in this area.  Because, like any complex problem, there isn’t a single solution to this issue.  It’s going to take many people doing many different things to achieve real diversity in STEM.

You’ve got to start young.  It’s never too early!  Support all children to be curious and engaged with the world around them and give them opportunities to discover. Face and address any and all unconscious bias as it arises.  That’s a real silent killer of females in STEM.

Role Models are important.  Seeing and hearing more women being celebrated in STEM will go a long way in inspiring a generation.  There doesn’t need to be a diversity problem in STEM, all genders have an important role to play in how this world is being shaped.

The recently published STEM Equity Monitor reveals only 10 per cent of women with a science, technology, engineering or mathematics qualification continue to work in the field. What advice would you give to women starting their STEM careers?

Build a community.  A community is pivotal to a successful career, and mentors are the absolute key.  Everyone should aim to have strong connections to mentors throughout their career, and mentees must make sure they return the favour by in turn being a mentor.

For most of my career, I didn’t have a mentor.  Not only was it a lonely existence, but it was also very difficult to progress my career.  Or to find much meaning in the work I did, outside of getting a steady paycheque.

A community is more than mentors though.  A community includes work colleagues, industry groups and a connection to a bigger network. When you’ve got a supportive and thriving community you can be a part of, then when times get difficult in your career, and they will, you have support to get you through it.

And lastly, what can your listeners look forward to in the near future?

There are so many exciting podcasts lined up to come out of Ramaley Media.  There’s a new season of “Idea Evolution” in the works, all about the evolution of transportation.  “STEMology” is a weekly show that is always on top of the latest interesting discoveries being made in STEM. And “Pitch Your PhD” is cracking open the world of PhD’s and showing the cutting edge work being done in a really understandable way.

Find out more about Ramaley Media here

Listen to the Engineering Heroes podcast series here or any of the podcasts on Ramaley Media here

Find out more about Melanie De Gioia here

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