Who We Are: Marita Cheng
Winner of the 2011 Change Agent Award – Sponsored by Google, Inc.
Marita was born in Cairns, Queensland, Australia. She graduated from high school in 2006 in the top 0.2% of the nation, and that year was awarded Cairns Young Citizen of the Year for her volunteering and extra-curricula efforts, which included winning awards for mathematics, Japanese and piano.
Marita is currently studying a Bachelor of Engineering (Mechatronics) / Bachelor of Computer Science at the University of Melbourne, thanks to the generosity of the Paterson Scholarship. She has also studied Mechanical Engineering at Imperial College London on a year of exchange. She is passionate about robotics, entrepreneurship, and women in engineering, and has been involved in many student groups and other activities in these areas.
In July 2008, Marita founded Robogals, a student-run organisation that aims to increase female participation in engineering, science and technology through fun and educational activities aimed at girls in primary and secondary school. Robogals’ primary activity is having university student volunteers visit schools to conduct fun, educational robotics workshops. It also runs other events and activities around this central theme. From it’s humble beginnings at the University of Melbourne, Robogals has now grown (as of September 2011) to have 17 chapters across Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Ireland and the Netherlands. Special projects that Robogals has initiated this year include the Robogals Rural and Regional programme, which brings their cause to rural and regional areas in Australia, and the Robogals National Science Challenge, where girls from around Australia do a science experiment and then upload a 4-minute video online for judging and prizes. She has also been a panelist on the New Inventors on ABC TV (episode aired 16 March 2011).
For her efforts with Robogals, Marita is a 2011 Nancy Fairfax Churchill Fellowship recipient, which gives her the funds to travel to 5 countries for 9 weeks to study strategies used to most effectively engage schoolgirls in science, engineering and technology. Marita will undertake her research from December 2011 – February 2011 and will travel to USA, Jamaica, India, Germany and UK.
Marita will commence the final year of her degree in 2012, while focusing her extra-curricula efforts on further developing Robogals, building robots and learning Mandarin. Marita also speaks Cantonese and Japanese.