As innovations of all kinds are expected to further drive the new economy forward, societies all over the world can no longer afford to have women not reaching their full potential in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or collectively known as the acronym STEM. Inclusion and diversity have become priorities in basic and higher education, as well as research and development, and Hong Kong is no exception. Ranked first as Asia's Top 200 Young Universities, HKUST is at the forefront of promoting opportunities for young women to excel in STEM and pursue careers in related disciplines.
Intending to become an engineering consultant, Karen Mok, a second-year student in the Civil and Environmental Engineering programme at HKUST, wants to follow in her father's footsteps and build exciting projects – and her construction industry career – from the ground up. One day, she will turn "a barren site into a new building," said Karen, who is also one of the recipients of the WISE Scholarships. Besides the recognition that helps her open more doors, the award helped her defray some of the costs of taking part in a STEM-related work camp in Japan and Korea, and an upcoming study abroad experience in Australia. In the WISE camp, her group combined an umbrella and a fan in an innovative product for a project that won them the championship.
Another WISE scholarship recipient, Cherry Chung, a final-year Physics major, might not be as lucky as Karen as she needed to convince her parents that her interests and strengths are in science. The timely scholarship helped her win them over and paved the way for graduate school. The strong research and innovation culture at HKUST has encouraged her to explore the STEM field that she never had the confidence to explore when she was younger. Her problem now is to decide whether to pursue a higher research degree in Physics or Computer Science, two disciplines which she is equally drawn to.
While family opinion plays a role in young women's decisions to pursue STEM studies, as we can see in Karen and Cherry's stories, having strong female role models is also a contributing factor for inclusion and diversity in science and technology. Sarah Feng, the Physics student who shared her transformation earlier, benefited from the advice and camaraderie from more senior female students. The scholarship recipient was empowered by the female undergraduate cohort in her programme, which was a welcome change from in high school. "My efforts are also appreciated by someone who does not know me," Sarah stressed, as the donor's moral support meant a lot to her. The award also lessened her financial burden, so she enjoys the "freedom of choice" to pursue other interests, such as archery. Like Sarah, Angel Lai, a second-year student pursuing a dual degree in Civil Engineering and General Business, found support in her role model. Angel sought out a female faculty member in her programme, who shared with Angel her experiences of being the only female student majoring in her field. Today, Angel's mentor proved instrumental in helping her win a WISE scholarship, and in pursuing her dream of becoming a civil engineer.
Every year, over a thousand female undergraduates are enrolled in HKUST's world-renowned Engineering and Science schools, as well as science and engineering related interdisciplinary programmes. The numbers are already a far cry from decades ago when Hong Kong women in STEM higher education were far and few between. Nonetheless, educators and other members of the community know that many more promising young women who would otherwise do well in STEM choose not to devote themselves to the fields for all the wrong reasons. Partnering with the Women's Foundation, HKUST currently boasts four WISE scholarships that offer past and future awardees another reason to pursue studies and careers in the STEM fields. Building on the success of the WISE scholarship programme, visionary members of the community and businesses will not want to miss the chance to support the University and many deserving young women by setting up new WISE scholarships. The next frontiers for science and technology will more likely be explored by women.