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Lauren Collette

Lauren is Program Director of Indigenous Sparks, which aims to empower those underrepresented in science and technology to be co-producers of our future world.

Lauren ColletteWhat do you do on an average work day?

On an average day I spend lots of time communicating. I enjoy connecting with teachers, with scientists, with industry experts, with students as we develop our program to engage our rangatahi (young Māori) and Pasifka students together. 

I also participate in a range of practical, hands on field trips with our young people. This I enjoy the most, as you see the sparkle and curiosity in the eyes of our young people. They come alive as they discover, explore and investigate little and big things in our environment and confront the real challenges facing our scientists as we work toward a more sustainable environment.

What did you study at school? And after high school?

At school I took all the sciences - maths, chemistry, biology and physics. I was also an avid reader and loved languages so completed literature along with a bit of French and Spanish. My first love at school was to become a vet so after high school I went into the natural sciences at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad and Tobago.

My career path took some turns and I was led to pursue a degree in Agri Business Management. Success here enabled me to secure a scholarship to the University College London Institute of Education, where I secured my Masters in Women in Leadership in Higher Education.  

Was your study directly related to what you do now? 

Yes and No. My science courses satisfied my desire for mathematics and for understanding the natural world while my management studies connected me with people and the career challenges faced by women.

Lauren with young women on the program

What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career?

Every day that passes in our lives, fits into the future. It was not immediately clear how the path I was taking would lead to where I am today.

I benefited from wise counsel at key decision points in my career. Be open to the wise input of others.

Be diligent, remain focused and work hard at things you love doing.

Don’t be afraid of new opportunities. You will make mistakes - we all do. However keep moving forward. Your past mistakes do not define you, only the next choice into your future.

What are some of your career highlights so far?

Definitely studying in London. The rich international culture was an absolute delight.

However, that experience is second to the joy I feel now when I see our youth’s eyes light up on one of our field trips. Nothing is more rewarding than to be able to bring the exciting and diverse world of science to the fingertips of hard-to-reach kids and see the spark in them turn into a flame of interest and confidence. 

Lauren with rangatahi

Why do you believe engaging in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is important to New Zealand? 

Society as we know it is changing right before our eyes. Our supermarket checkouts are increasingly automated. We use automation to check in flights. Our GPS is possible because of a connection to satellites thousands of kilometres in the sky. Our cell phones are advanced technological devices.

All of these changes and more are part of our everyday lives and they are powered by STEM. This knowledge is shaping the future and our young ladies must master it and use it well.

Why is it important to have more women working in STEM?

Women have made major contributions to science in the past and they have many more discoveries to make to advance our understanding of the natural world.

Women were and are leaders in crafting the early platforms of programming or in constructing DNA. Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson were African-American women in STEM who broke the racial barrier and skyrocketed to the top of their field at NACA, later NASA. The Oscar acclaimed movie Hidden Figures really highlighted simple, everyday women who were capable pioneers behind the scenes.

However, women bring another aspect to science that relates to the application and use of science for the benefit of others.  Take for example Dr Patricia Bath who invented a laser cataract treatment device called a Laserphaco Probe in 1986. Or Dr Marie Daly's groundbreaking research that included studies of the effects of cholesterol on the mechanics of the heart. Often a woman’s interest in the sciences go beyond the technology or the knowledge and she is keen to apply this to the benefit of others.

Lauren with her husband and daughters

Lauren is the Educational Researcher of PTC Trust and Program Director of Indigenous Sparks™, a program designed to reach those traditionally underrepresented in sciences and technology and empower them with a new sense of vision as co-producers of our future world. Lauren is originally from the beautiful isles of Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean and now lives in New Zealand.

This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM.

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