In the interview: Jiny Matty-Borlinghaus from the zdi center Oberhausen

Gwendolyn Paul from the zdi state office spoke to Jiny Matty-Borlinghaus on the International Day of Girls and Women in Science. She is not only the project manager Girls' Academy of the zdi Center Oberhausen, but also a member of this year's jury zdi Science League. Plus she was one of the zdi heroines in October 2023.

In the interview, Jiny explains why female role models are important, what we need to do to break down gender stereotypes and why the zdi Science League is a project that does exactly this well.

The image shows a screenshot from a Zoom call. Gwendolyn Paul can be seen on the left and Jiny Matty-Borlinghaus on the right.
Gwendolyn Paul (left) from the zdi regional office in conversation with Jiny Matty-Borlinghaus from the zdi center Oberhausen.

MINT is a diverse buffet

Gwendolyn Paul: Before we really start the topic, I would like to ask a question to loosen things up. If you imagine STEM as something to eat, what would that be for you?

Jiny Matty-Borlinghaus: I can't concentrate on one thing straight away. That's why I would say it's a diverse buffet. The many flavors and combinations all contribute to making our world more interesting. That's a good comparison for me.

MINT was clear from the start

Gwendolyn Paul: So you actually need MINT for everything in order to survive, that sounds good! Of course I would like to know from you: What is your MINT career, how did you get into MINT?

Jiny Matty-Borlinghaus: I noticed at school that I always enjoyed the science subjects, especially math and physics, the most. It was also clear to me that I definitely wanted to study because I come from a family of academics. In line with the school subjects that interested me, I then decided that I wanted to study mechanical engineering, mechatronics or architecture.

After school, I initially did an internship at the steel company Thyssen-Krupp and was offered the opportunity to do a dual course of study in the field of mechanical engineering with training as a technical product designer. This was a great opportunity for me, because I have to say that my grades weren't that great now and it wasn't that easy in the past to get a place for a dual course of study. That's why I took the opportunity straight away and stayed with the company. I worked there as a project manager and project engineer until September 2023.

And then I decided that I would like to do something new again, applied to the Girls' Academy and was accepted. This was a great opportunity for me because I realized how much I enjoy working with young people and that I would like to give something back with what I have learned.

Studying MINT is worth it – despite the challenges

Gwendolyn Paul: Were there moments when you had to realize: “Oh, I’m the only woman here!”?

Jiny Matty-Borlinghaus: There were definitely moments, be it during studies or at work among all the trainees. It was always a challenge and I felt like I had to prove myself twice or three times over. Maybe it was also an intrinsic motivation that I wanted to prove: Away from clichés, a woman can do it too! The biggest challenges were always in this very technical area, when you were on the construction sites and had to have a say and make announcements. I was also relatively young for the field.

At the beginning of our studies there were around six women among almost 100 students, not only in the field of mechanical engineering, but also electrical engineering and mechatronics. It was a challenge, but I still always felt good.

The Girls' Academy from the zdi Center Oberhausen

Gwendolyn Paul: And you didn't let yourself be discouraged, that sounds good. Now you are the head of the Girls' Academy. Can you tell us a little more about it?

Jiny Matty-Borlinghaus: The Girls' Academy is a cooperation project between the zdi Center Oberhausen, the Ruhr West University of Applied Sciences and the city of Oberhausen. We have made it our mission to inspire girls and young women to pursue MINT careers. I accompany a group of 20 girls for a year. Together we hold workshops, excursions and projects in which participants can gain practical experience and deal with various MINT topics. They develop their skills and receive help finding internships, applying and much more. Visits to our partner companies that support us financially are also on the program. The girls not only have the opportunity to gain an insight into the companies, processes and professional fields, but also to learn and apply practical tasks

A poster for the Oberhausen Girls' Academy.

We also run mentoring programs. We always invite women to come and give us an insight into their careers and their MINT careers and thus serve as role models for the girls.

Gwendolyn Paul: How do you acquire your participants?

Jiny Matty-Borlinghaus: We advertise on social media and also advertise at the schools themselves, for example at parents' evenings or project weeks. We attend job fairs and training fairs. There are also open offers where girls can get a taste of the program and if they like it, they can apply for the Girls' Academy.

Why role models are important

Gwendolyn Paul: You were one of our zdi heroines last year, so you were a role model yourself in zdi heroine month.

Jiny Matty-Borlinghaus: Being addressed as a zdi heroine was definitely a great honor for me! My own experience has been that we generally have few women in the MINT sector and even fewer women with a migrant background. I think that's a total shame, because it's already been proven how important diversity is in teams. That's why it's an honor for me to be able to represent the Girls' Academy and be a role model for the girls.

Role models play a crucial role. I think I'm a role model not because I'm perfect, but because I've been through ups and downs. I want to show that women can also be successful in the STEM field. It is important to set an example for the girls.

Gwendolyn Paul: What tips do you have for breaking down gender stereotypes in the STEM field?

Jiny Matty-Borlinghaus: I think it's important to break down stereotypes not only on an individual level, but also on an institutional level. It's about raising awareness of the inequalities that still exist. Promoting role models and enabling encounters between the role models and the girls can also help break down stereotypes.

When it comes to career guidance in schools, there is still too much use of clichés and girls are encouraged to focus on the social sector, while boys are encouraged to go into the technical sector. Of course you have to raise awareness. I don't just mean the teachers here, but also the parents' home. I don't exempt myself from this responsibility either. The topic is so important and you have to constantly correct and question yourself. What you did ten years ago doesn't have to be done the same way. Diversity must be emphasized, this is very important in order to counteract gender stereotypes.

Jiny's favorite MINT place in NRW

Gwendolyn Paul: In your Girls' Academy you are essentially creating a space, a STEM place for girls. Could you tell me your personal favorite MINT place in NRW?

Jiny Matty-Borlinghaus: For me as a native of Essen, that is of course the Zollverein Coal Mine! Quite cliché, but for me there are also a lot of personal memories attached to it. I grew up in Essen and have always been drawn there. For me, the Zollverein mine embodies, on the one hand, the industrial past of the Ruhr area but also the transformation that allows people to turn away from old and environmentally harmful things. But you can still say: This is still part of our culture, it brought us a lot back then, it was important at the time and perhaps there was no other way at the time. And then this transformation, which is of course very exciting and links many disciplines together. I think the architecture in the Zollverein mine is very cool!

The Zollverein colliery...

A circular image of a building with a large metal structure, the Zollverein mine in Essen.
Image: Anna-Marie from the zdi youth advisory board
  • was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986 and is considered one of the most impressive industrial monuments in the world,
  • is now a center for art, culture and creative industries and houses numerous museums, exhibitions and events,
  • was the venue for the 2023 event zdi community events.

The zdi Science League and the districts of the future

Gwendolyn Paul: The zdi Science League also creates places, namely the neighborhoods of the future. What exactly is it about and how did you come to become a member of the jury?

Jiny Matty-Borlinghaus: The Science League is about exactly the current topics we are talking about today: What does our future look like? How are our cities built or rebuilt so that they are not only environmentally friendly, but also have social aspects such as accessibility.

The best thing about it is that the students can develop completely freely. This creates exciting topics and ideas for which I can only have the deepest respect. The teams are all relatively young and not that big, around three to five people. And they work so meticulously into the topic, developing exhibition areas of 2 x 2 meters with their cities.

What’s special about the zdi Science League

Gwendolyn Paul: What has impressed you most so far? What makes the zdi Science League unique?

Jiny Matty-Borlinghaus: I think it's great that young people have the opportunity to develop completely freely. The tasks are very clear, but the implementation is up to you. The results were presented in videos, so we on the jury had the opportunity to get to know the participants well and gain insights into the projects. The projects themselves are all very different in different aspects, from presentation to use of materials. One team used a 3D printer, another a laser cutter and yet another team worked with cardboard. I find it really exciting that everyone can let their creativity run wild.

Gwendolyn Paul: In your opinion, can such a competition also help to break down gender stereotypes?

Jiny Matty-Borlinghaus: In any case! In this way, we create the visibility that mixed groups and groups made up only of boys or only girls can stand next to each other on an equal footing. And when the girls group is at the forefront of the competitions, you can also show that they simply have the same skills and the same know-how. I think it's important to highlight this: It doesn't really matter whether it's a girl or a boy who does the task. It is much more important to look at how the task is solved and what creative ideas the individual people bring in.

Jiny's city of the future

Gwendolyn Paul: I would like to take a look into the future with you, because this year we at zdi.NRW have the annual theme “Smart Cities – Cities as a living space of the future“. What would be your wish for a living space in the future and why would MINT be needed?

Jiny Matty Borlinghaus: In my ideal living space of the future, city planning should also be socially oriented. The quality of life of the residents should be increased. So that every person who lives in this society has the opportunity to develop. But it is also very important that we focus on environmentally friendly technologies and implement the technologies we already have in a climate-friendly way. We can only implement the areas of health, environmental protection and technology with the help of MINT skills. We also have to ensure that it becomes a living space for all people, not just for the rich, wealthy or privileged.

Gwendolyn Paul: Thank you for the wonderful conversation!

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