Since completing her degree in computer information systems at the University of Jordan, Lina Qasem has moved to Melbourne where she is harnessing the power of children’s imagination and empowering the next generation of young women to be passionate about STEM.
When Lina Qasem was studying for her degree in computer information systems at the University of Jordan, she was one of the only women in her course. In Jordan, women make up just one quarter of STEM researchers.
That makes Qasem’s work in robotics and coding all the more impressive.
“I have always loved robotics, it is my passion,” she said.
“I love seeing the results of what I’m doing. When I code the robot and let them be something, it’s like solving a problem. Doing something to help the community or creating something to solve a real-world problem, it’s something amazing.”
Since graduating, she has moved to Melbourne and developed an after-school program in her adopted home, where she shares her love of coding and robotics with the next generation — particularly young women.
Qasem noted that the lack of women in her cohort was a trend that continued after she left university.
“There were some girls there,” she recalled.
“But unfortunately when they graduated they didn’t work in the IT field.”
But her exemplary credentials attracted the attention of major firms in the field, and she was able to quickly secure a job.
“Once I graduated I worked immediately. I had an excellent GPA, so many companies wanted to employ me,” she said.
“That’s the truth! They saw that I had won many medals in competitions that I had entered, and saw that I was someone who is very interested in this field. That was uncommon — a girl that was so interested in STEM.”
Moving to Australia
After working for a year Qasem moved, with her husband, to Australia where, with no local connections or experience and a new baby, she struggled to find work
As she searched for work she was eager to find ways to maintain her skills.
“In IT if you don’t use it, you’re going to lose it. The industry moves very fast and you have to stay up to date,” she said.
To that end, she became involved with robotics competitions, working as a scorekeeper.
“When I joined these competitions I noticed there was a lack of female participants,” she recalled.
“I know the future is based on STEM, and I wanted my daughter to be engaged from an early age. I thought ‘why don’t I start my own academy to teach robotics to kids?’.”
From there, she created Robofun, an after school program that teaches children about robotics and coding.
“We create something small to solve a problem and then connect it to robotics. So we create a code to solve a problem. And then we start playing with it,” she says.
“That feeling that I felt — that you’re doing something to help the community — I have found that they feel the same thing.”
She has found that art and creative thinking is a highly effective way of engaging young girls.
“We connect some pencils to the robot and code it to draw a picture or draw shapes. In coding sessions we design our own program so that anyone can use the software that they make,” Qasem said.
“We also do pop-up cards that are connected with a circuit behind them, so when they open and press part of it, the light lights up, and they can find the circuit working behind the card by mixing science and engineering with craft. They love it.”
Most recently, Qasem has incorporated wearable tech into the program.
“They can be creative and imagine anything and apply it in our class,” she says.
As her business grows, so does Qasem’s enthusiasm for robotics and coding. Her passion for empowering the next generation, continues to grow, fuelled in part, by her daughter.
“I love being a mum and I want to be a role model for my daughter. I wanted to let her know that her mum is not just sitting at home. She is using her knowledge and she is giving back to the community.”