Just three years since its inception, the annual UNSW Canberra Prize for the Best Female Student in Mathematics has already had an impact on the future of its high school recipients.

The prize, supported by Northrop Grumman Australia, was designed to address the gender gap in STEM subjects. Students like Isabel Innes – a repeat winner of the award – have been inspired to continue studying maths.

“Before I got this prize, I would have never even thought of taking a maths route with my life,” the Queanbeyan High School student said.

“But after this, I’ve had the chance to see what it would be like if I took a STEM or a maths course when I get to university.”   

UNSW Canberra Rector Professor Michael Frater said it’s a scenario he’s all too familiar with – many female students drop out of maths in high school, effectively limiting their career pathways.

“What we’re trying to do with the maths prize is show the girls that they’re good at it and show them the relevance of mathematics to their future careers,” Professor Frater said.

For Isabel, the maths prize, along with other UNSW Canberra STEM initiatives, demonstrated why the subject is so important.

“STEM is about figuring out how things work and how we can solve problems in our world,” she said.

“When I finish school, I really want to be an aeronautical engineer. I need to pick subjects that will help me with my future – so that will be maths advanced and physics. Those are two of the subjects that I’m definitely doing.”

Kaya McGloin, an award winner from Orana Steiner School, said she will also continue her maths studies.

“The maths prize has definitely inspired me to think about doing more maths subjects in college,” she said.

“I’m really enjoying geometry. I just find it really interesting and I like all the deductive reasoning you can do with it.”

Northrop Grumman Australia Chief Executive Chris Deeble said he hopes the award will inspire more young women, such as Isabel and Kaya, to stick with maths.

“Mathematics is an important part of everything Northrop Grumman does. We’re a company that is investing in advanced technology innovation,” Mr Deeble said.

“We’ve learned as a company that having diversity helps us deliver on innovation, it helps us deliver the advanced technologies that are at the heart of the Northrop Grumman business.”

Mr Deeble knows firsthand where a maths studies can take you. He completed his maths degree in 1978, which played a significant role in his career with the Royal Australian Air Force.

“My experience tells me that mathematics underpins everything that you need to be part of innovating for the future,” he said.

He encourages the award winners to “keep up the hard work, keep engaged and keep learning”.

“I look forward to talking to them about the opportunities that come from studying in mathematics and other STEM-related activities and what companies like Northrop Grumman can provide for them in an exciting future and career path.”

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