In an interview: Jenny Kociemba and Elita Wiegand, jurors of the zdi-Science League

Gwendolyn Paul from the zdi regional office talks to Elita Wiegand and Jenny Kociemba about their job as jurors at the Science League and about how competitions not only get people excited about STEM, but can also do STEM girls work.

In conversation

Gwendolyn Paul
Gwendolyn Paul, Head of Communications at zdi.NRW
Jenny Kociemba
Jenny Kociemba,
Robotics Coach
Elita Wiegand
Elita Wiegand,
Managing director

Gwendolyn Paul: I would like to start with a short introduction. Who are you and how did your connection to MINT come about?

Jenny Kociemba: I have always been interested in natural sciences and after graduating from high school I completed an apprenticeship as a chemical laboratory assistant. I came to supervise the project because I was very interested in the work my children and other children did in the local student research center; there were so many exciting topics! And since 2016 I have been supervising children and young people with their projects in the STEM field. Back then, I quickly took over my first robot team; I couldn't program this robot at all. But that wasn't a problem at all. And later I taught myself how to program. As a result, I worked in schools and in the student research center and supervised various projects: everything that came up in the natural sciences, whether chemistry, biology, "youth research"...

Elita Wiegand: I started a network that future makers, where we bring people together who shape the future with their projects and actions. I am also very interested in urban farming and vertical farming. I was very happy when the request came to become a juror for the Science League, because I believe that this will give girls a chance in STEM fields. Because the cliché “women and technology” is still widespread. In the Science League, the girls can try things out a bit, show their talents and abilities and also show their male competitors that it's possible.

On the other hand, in the area of ​​urban farming in particular – in other words, where the issue is how we can feed ten billion people on this planet in a few years – I have noticed that there are many women here and a lot of work is done in mixed teams. I think we need women, especially for the future, for transformation and change.

Gwendolyn Paul: It seems to me that youth work in particular is an important starting point? So not just specifically for girls, but in general to promote STEM education?

Elita Wiegand: I see competitions like the Science League as a great opportunity. Especially when it comes to the topic of role models, which are often missing and young people ask themselves the question: "What do I orientate myself on?". Giving them the opportunity to get a taste of things and gain experience opens up a way into the future, and I think that's very important.

Jenny Kociemba: In any case. I also think that just getting a taste of it is a very important point, not only to recognize what interests me, but also what I can actually do. And we really have to promote that at a young age.

Screenshot of the conversation between Jenny Kociemba, Gwendolyn Paul and Elita Wiegand

The zdi Science League

Gwendolyn Paul: Let's talk a little bit about the Science League: What's actually happening and why is it important?

Jenny Kociemba: Various teams have applied and are now going through this competition by always taking on a sub-task on five match days in order to later come to this vertical or urban farming. In the first match day February 13th was about alternative energy generation. Later it will also be a question of storing this energy if we do not use it further. Then it goes on to building a greenhouse or something similar, which is then also equipped with a controller. I find it a very interesting concept that the tasks build on one another. This gives you a starting point to get into a topic. And you can deal with a topic and various aspects of it over a longer period of time. We're excited to see what's next for the teams.

Elita Wiegand: I was also amazed at the first results. Because energy plays a huge role in vertical farming or urban production in particular, and there are still many challenges at the moment. For example, when you know that the LED lighting in the farms consumes an enormous amount of CO₂ and there is still no good solution for many other things. That's why I was amazed that the students came up with such good solutions. I have to admit that the energy transition isn't exactly my specialty, and I was impressed by the creativity and imagination with which the teams tackled the tasks. As Jenny rightly puts it, it's an approach to the various elements that make up a farm. And I hope that this competition will finally lead to us in Germany getting more involved in the subject.

Gwendolyn Paul: Was it a challenge to evaluate the results from matchday one?

Elita Wiegand: No, not for me. With you Jenny?

Jenny Kociemba: I did find it challenging because we got so many different jobs. There were also various ideas on how to generate alternative energy.

Elita Wiegand: Right, yes, that's right.

Jenny Kociemba: Photovoltaic was, I think, used by almost everyone. But we also had the idea of ​​working with hydroelectric power or with geothermal energy. And I'm really excited to see how the teams continue there now.

Gwendolyn Paul: What is your role on the jury and what is your judging process like?

Elita Wiegand: I found this a very exciting process for myself. Not least because I also learned something myself. And there were creative things like a podcast or great drawings. There were very different posts. The evaluation then took time, because I thought they were all good.

Jenny Kociemba: It is actually not that easy to evaluate such projects. I also do that in other competitions and it always takes time and there is a need for discussion because you also lack the specialist knowledge. We are very well positioned on the Science League jury when it comes to our specialist areas. dr Petr Tulka, for example, is our energy generation expert. Philipp and Stefan Lindner are actually already active in the field of urban farming themselves. Of course, they can bring in completely different knowledge. And I would hope that the exchange in the jury would continue to increase. Because I find it very profitable.

Two women and a robot work in a greenhouse powered by solar power and wind turbines.

Science League and STEM girls work

Gwendolyn Paul: Do you feel the Science League can help achieve more equal access to STEM subjects?

Jenny Kociemba: What girls care about when it comes to technology is, "How can I use it?". This aspect of application is very important to girls, and science says so too. And when you have that science league where you say, "It's not about building anything awesome. But afterwards we need a greenhouse that works. Show us that you can generate energy for this”, then that's an area that I think appeals to girls.

Elita Wiegand: Of course, there are other ways to bring STEM closer to girls. For example, through holiday jobs, mentors or internships. But with the competitions, it's a STEM promotion that couldn't be better. And I think that we will have a very considerable need in the future. We need women and girls who bring the talents we need, such as communication and effective work organization. These are areas that I believe are needed in business and I believe such competitions are a start. Also - and I think that's important - that the youngsters get to know where their skills lie. Because it is also the mixed teams that make up what we need and where you can see where you complement each other. I think competitions like this help to break down prejudices that young people may still carry around when they see what great results come from working together.

Gwendolyn Paul: We had a big one last year STEM girls camp, in which we worked out together with schoolgirls how offers should be designed so that they feel like it. And a central aspect that came out of it was team play. So communication, exchange and teamwork. Do you see that guaranteed in the Science League?

Jenny Kociemba: Because the teams approach a task together, the aspect arises automatically. There isn't the same division as in other competitions: tasks then have to be covered both in the field of robotics and in a research area. The teams are often divided up so that the girls work on the research area. This division does not exist in the Science League, everyone works together on one topic. Everyone can get involved and a lot of communication is necessary to get a result afterwards. So I can only answer your question with "yes".

Elita Wiegand: I fully share Jenny's opinion and have nothing more to add. Wonderfully worded and expressed.

Gwendolyn Paul: Do you have any tips on breaking down gender stereotypes in the STEM field?

Elita Wiegand: Well, I'm a bit older and I remember the time when it was very difficult. But I still experience the clichés today, i.e. this terrible sentence “women and technology”. I think it's very important that girls and young women just assert themselves and say: "We can do it!". Thank God that has already changed - I'm very happy about that - that today I probably have many more opportunities to work in the scientific field as well. And I think that girls who are curious about STEM subjects just do that. It doesn't matter what other men or parents say. The future offers incredible opportunities to just try things. I think that's important, i.e. that everyone becomes a future maker.

Jenny Kociemba: Another aspect is that girls have to dare. That they feel they can. If I'm a person who values ​​that I can do things before I do something, that may be difficult. Because project work in particular is characterized by the fact that I don't know what will come out at the end. I have to familiarize myself, I have to make mistakes, correct them and get ahead as a result. And we have to teach the girls that they can do it too. Just because guys are often more comfortable with things, doesn't mean they're better at them.

Elita Wiegand: Glad you said that, Jenny!

Jenny Kociemba: And then I ask myself: Why don't the girls dare? And the parents are sure to play a part in that too. I was lucky to grow up in a family where no differences were made between my brother and me. My father also showed me how to disassemble the bike and gears. I had to do it just like my brother. And I think it's important in families to make sure that roles aren't automatically assumed. That as a mother you don't say: "Dad does it". Or to the girl: "You can't do that." - so that the girl thinks afterwards: "Mom can't do that, so maybe I can't do it that well either." And that girls are also shown at school: you can do it the! If you are interested in certain topics - as Elita says - then look for offers on what interests you.

Gwendolyn Paul: Do you see yourself as a role model?

Jenny Kociemba: I think I'm becoming a role model because I'm just doing what I'm doing. I show that I am interested in a wide variety of topics. I familiarize myself with a topic and show the girls that it's possible.

Elita Wiegand: I've been self-employed all my life and I support women and girls because I know that sometimes the road is hard. And it's also the case that men sometimes shoot at you. Then asserting oneself and developing a sense of self-worth is something I would like to pass on. I believe that the future will be female - futurologists predicted that a few years ago, but it hasn't quite happened yet. But with the issues that are particularly strong now, such as climate change or AI, the social aspect plays a role and women have a different view of it. It's not about competition, it's about working together, about a team. I don't know if I'm a role model, but I support women wherever I can.

Gwendolyn Paul: Would you like to get rid of a message?

Elita Wiegand: My message would be that girls and young women should not let themselves be defeated. Just grow up and grow up knowing that we are just as good as men.

Jenny Kociemba: And I think it's important that girls bring their perspective and their way of thinking to these projects, which are still male-oriented. We need women in these projects who say: "Yes, that's nice, but what is the point of it?". And for that we need girls.

Gwendolyn Paul: Thank you very much for the interview and I wish you every success in your future jury work! And we are all very excited about the other days of the zdi Science League.

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