Michaela Taweel is an 18-year-old programmer who hopes to inspire other young girls and women to pursue a STEM career on the 8th annual International Day of Women and Girls in Science. From being the only female in her university course at the Academy of Interactive Entertainment when she was just 13 years old, to landing her very first programming job with industry leading virtual and augmented reality studio, Start Beyond, Michaela has proven herself as a powerhouse female in STEM.

Homeschooled by her mum, Michaela was educated and empowered to advance her grades and start university early. By 17 Michaela received her advanced diploma in Game Programming and began applying for jobs in the industry. She never thought she would land the job she now has, and wants it to be a lesson to all young women to stick with their STEM dreams.

Since beginning at Start Beyond Michaela has been building VR & AR projects for various Australian federal and state departments as well as leading organisations including ANSTO and The University of Newcastle. But the work she finds most rewarding in the company is the groundbreaking programs she builds for St John Ambulance and SocialWise VR.

The online training platform created for St John Ambulance has reduced CPR and First Aid training time by 50%, increased knowledge retention, and last year the company broke records by training over 140,000 Victorians with lifesaving skills. Michaela also works on SocialWise VR, an immersive program which allows young adults with autism to experience in VR a variety of complex social interactions, within the safety of the therapist environment, and use this knowledge to navigate the challenges of everyday life.

If Michaela hadn’t persisted as the only girl in her university course, she wouldn’t be working on life changing projects like she is today. Her message to young girls is, “even though it seems difficult, if you’re interested and you enjoy any sort of STEM studies, persist with them… it will be worth doing.” Recent findings by the World Economic Forum show “it will take 132 years to close the gender gap”, so every little bit we can do to encourage young girls helps to keep bringing that number down.

Outside of her work, Michaela loves to build games, and hopes one day to create a large-scale action game that features a female heroine.

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