Early struggles and a passion for engineering inspired Kiarna Broomhead to show other students the possibilities of STEM.
Of the 950 students enrolled in an undergraduate engineering program at Griffith University’s Gold Coast Campus, 115 are female. Of the 115 female students, second year electrical and electronics engineering student Kiarna Broomhead is the only indigenous woman.
When she’s not studying, Broomhead volunteers with the School of Engineering and Built Environment and the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) Ambassador Program at Griffith. However, most of her time is spent with the Women in Engineering Society, where she helps run outreach activities at schools to teach young girls about engineering.
“The outreach volunteering is what I most enjoy about university and my engineering degree, because I’m able to fulfill my want to show young people about these things they can do with their lives,” she told create. “I find going out into the community and showing what engineering is about is the best way to gain interest in the area. I talk to kids at engineering displays or STEM events to tell them what engineering is and help run outreach programs at schools where we do activities like building a circuit with the students,” she continues. “If you spark interest in just one person to look further into technology or science-related degrees, it could change their life and make the future better.”
A passion for learning
Broomhead’s love of science and technology and her own struggles at school underpin her motivation to share the benefits of education and a career in STEM. The Brinja-Yuin woman grew up on the south coast of New South Wales in small, beachside towns, moving around a lot as a child. The frequent moves were mainly due to her father’s contract work for builders.
Moving often and constantly having to make new friends made schooling hard, and Broomhead was keenly aware that she missed out on the opportunity to form bonds with teachers who could be role models. “Moving around a lot, I struggled with learning at a young age and was often behind in classes. I was always the new kid, always,” she said. Broomhead goes on to say, “Not being able to stick around somewhere and form bonds with teachers, I didn’t have a female role model, especially someone in science. There was no one there for me, so I want to be that for people. In future, I want people to see the work I do and say ‘Wow, that is something I want to do with my life’.”
Broomhead, who followed her two older sisters to Griffith University, said she enjoys the connections with teachers and the practical nature of the electrical engineering course, which involves building circuitry and coding. “One of the things I’ve really enjoyed about studying at Griffith is being able to have those connections with lecturers that I didn’t have with teachers when I was a kid,” she said.
“They have a pretty big influence on the work I do. I am in smaller classes and I get to talk to my lecturers a lot more.”
Since starting her degree, Broomhead has received a $5000 scholarship from building group Grocon and completed a four-month internship with rail freight company Aurizon. At Aurizon, she worked with the asset management team focusing on the upkeep, maintenance and retirement of locomotives. She is currently undertaking an internship with Boeing Defence Australia as a systems engineer.
However, Broomhead believes her contribution to the community is her greatest achievement. “The thing I am most proud of is the amount of time I have been able to put into volunteering,” she said.
Ready for take-off
Broomhead said her work placements have provided valuable opportunities to gain practical experience and learn from industry professionals. As part of her internship with Boeing, she helps support upgrades to the Royal Australian Air Force’s fleet of six E-7A Wedgetails.
The Wedgetail aircraft is an airborne early warning and control platform that can gather information from a wide variety of sources, analyze it, and distribute it to other assets. Under the AIR 5077 Phase 5A contract, Boeing Defence Australia is leading the first major upgrade program for the aircraft to ensure the fleet complies with evolving military and civilian standards.
“The people I am meeting and the stories you hear from them show the value in what you are doing,” Broomhead said. “It gives you drive and really inspires you to work harder.”
This article originally appeared in the May 2019 issue of create magazine. To read the article in its entirety online, click here.