Aspire Ambassador Wlademir Penna is a great example of paying it forward.
After studying and working in the STEM field for decades, Wlademir now supports others to develop their STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) interests as an Aspire UWA Ambassador.
Currently employed as a senior process consultant with Alcoa, Wlademir has always been passionate about teaching young people and trying to ignite their passion for science. So, when he learned about Aspire’s Ambassador program earlier this year, he volunteered as an eMentor to connect with students online and discuss their STEM interests and future aspirations.
Following more than 20 years in the alumina industry and having worked in places like the US and Spain, Wlademir was a perfect candidate to volunteer. He is also completing his second master’s degree, in business administration at UWA, after previously completing a master's degree in science/project management and his bachelor’s in chemical engineering in Brazil.
Wlademir joined the In2science eMentoring program because it aims to foster enthusiasm for STEM among high school students, promote the value and rewards of a STEM career and establish partnerships between universities and industry. One such company was Wlademir’s employer and its Alcoa Foundation, which has supported partnerships between schools in the Peel region and the Aspire UWA program since 2016.
“I learned about the Aspire program in an internal communication from Alcoa, which is a partner of the program. Then I went to the Aspire website to learn about how I could engage with the program. I’ve always liked to learn and share knowledge, and during my career I learned this is the best way to achieve sustainable results.”
Wlademir connected with his mentees by identifying their topics of interest from the outset.
“This helps break the ice and engage them in productive discussions. Also, I find ways to show them that I don’t have all the answers, but I know a method to find the answers. I firmly believe the scientific method is a mindset that can transform the way young kids relate to the world.”
He also tried to instil in them that STEM is a rewarding future career path.
“I believe science is a funny and interesting subject, but many kids are scared to try because they think it is difficult. So, I decided to try to help them realise science is not that hard and, in fact, can change their lives and get them a fulfilling job.”
Wlademir hopes the program can be expanded to incorporate UWA alumni in the future, so he can contribute attracting more people to study STEM subjects.
“I'm fascinated by how even the shyest kid's behaviour changes when we discuss some topics of their interest, and science is something that, in my experience, always attract kids.”
“The mentoring experience was rewarding in two ways. First, and most importantly, I was able to see the progress of the mentees in such a short time. Second, I learned a lot with them, not only researching topics to discuss but mainly developing soft skills I can apply at my work.
“The Aspire program is a powerful tool to engage the new university students. Companies will benefit from partnering with Aspire. Most companies face a difficult task in recruiting people to work on manufacturing or STEM-related degrees. Aspire is a very effective tool to help companies improve their ability to recruit good professionals in the future.”
Aspire UWA works with 73 partner schools and communities in WA, including 17 in the Peel region, to raise aspirations for tertiary education. It encourages students from Years 7 to 12, who may be unlikely to consider university as an option, to see the benefits and opportunities university study offers.
Student Ambassadors volunteer their time to assist with Aspire events and activities, and share their experiences of the journey from high school to university. They take up opportunities to discuss the varied challenges and benefits associated with attending university, emphasising that higher studies are achievable, no matter which pathway students may take.