Leadership Development Program

Alice aims to inspire women in STEM

Monday, February 5th, 2024

As a woman in STEM, Alice Hu has felt like an imposter at times. Now an award-winning Teach For Australia alumna and New Colombo Plan Scholar, her experience is driving her to make change in the education system.

“You can’t underestimate the power of representation and visibility,” she said.

Alice was first inspired to pursue a career in education while completing her undergraduate double degree in music and science. She was involved in the University of New South Wales Girls Do The Maths program – a workshop series that encourages high school aged girls to consider mathematics as a career.

“From that experience and from tutoring I had this idea of education being something I wanted to go into. I wanted to see the profile of women in STEM to be boosted – and I thought that high school was a good place to start, it seems to be a very leaky part of the pipeline,” she said.

After graduating university, Alice spent time studying in Singapore in 2020 and planned to intern with the Ministry of Education through the Australian Government’s New Colombo Plan Scholarship Program. But the COVID-19 pandemic meant that had to be put on hold.

Alice was still keen to continue her studies while gaining experience on the ground, so she applied for Teach For Australia’s two-year Leadership Development Program – the country’s leading employment-based pathway into teaching.

“The Leadership Development Program really ticked all the boxes – and Teach For Australia is invested in equity, which was a big driver in what I wanted to pursue in education: gender equity.”

Jumping in the deep end

Alice joined the program’s 2022 Cohort and was placed at Elevation Secondary College in Craigieburn, Victoria, to teach mathematics while studying her Master of Teaching. Like all TFA Associates, she was supported with 1:1 mentoring and coaching during the two years.

“It’s a little bit of a whirlwind – jumping into the deep end – but it makes you realise that you can do it,” she said.

“I actually only learnt how to swim when I was 15 because I was scared of the deep end, so it’s a funny analogy. I just had to believe I could swim, that I could float, and that’s what happened – but not without the support of people around me of course.”

Improving student outcomes

Alice was quickly tasked with leading the school’s Year 7 and 8 Logic extension program, where she aimed to expose students to different mathematical ideas and theories – “everything that I found interesting in my university degree”.

“I thought it would be a good idea to get them to do projects to do with the real world, and one of the student projects ended up coming first in the 2023 National Maths Talent Quest – that was very impressive,” Alice said.

Alice has also focused on ensuring an even gender split in the extension program and encouraged young women in her maths classes to “feel more success”.

“Through just expressing my experiences of feeling like an imposter in STEM and maths I’ve been able to encourage certain women to give things a go,” she said.

“One student who was best in school for the Australian maths competition wasn’t going to actually do the test in the first place, until I followed up again and again and convinced her. I was seeing myself in her.

“Another of my students in Year 7 advanced three years in one year in Maths Pathway just because she wants to do more work constantly and asks for feedback.

“I’m really happy that I’ve been able to be connected with students like that.”

Statewide recognition

These incredible outcomes were recognised by the Victorian Government in 2023, in Alice’s second year of teaching, when she received an Outstanding Early Career Secondary Teacher Award.

Elevation Secondary College Assistant Principal, Sonia Loudon, was Alice’s first-year mentor through the Leadership Development Program and is a TFA alumna herself. She said Alice brought fresh ideas and a strong passion and subject expertise to the school.

“Alice works exceptionally hard, and she goes above and beyond with all of her students – some of them are years behind in their maths, but also some whom she is extending and accelerating,” Sonia said.

“When TFA Associates start teaching they often don’t know a lot about schools, so they come with some really fantastic ideas and ask great questions. Associates can make our classes better by bringing in a new perspective.

“Alice’s first-hand experience of studying Mathematics at University, and what it took to get her there, has shaped the way she talks about the subject with her students. It’s also led to changes in our curriculum and acceleration programs.”

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