When Boeing systems engineer Taylah Griffin isn’t working to keep the Royal Australian Air Force’s early warning aircraft flying, she’s working to inspire more Indigenous people to consider a career in science or engineering.
“The future job market will be led by STEM and currently, less than 1% of Indigenous students are studying STEM at university,” she says.
“If we don’t put a spotlight on Indigenous excellence and promote STEM to young Indigenous Australians, then the gap will continue to grow.”
Following her passion for science and maths has certainly worked for Griffin, who graduated last year with a Bachelor of Electrical and Aerospace Engineering (Honours) at Brisbane-based university QUT – the first Indigenous person to do so.
And this year, she won the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Tertiary Student STEM Achievement Award, organised by the BHP Foundation and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).
A proud Gangulu woman, who grew up in Gordonvale in Far North Queensland, Griffin attributes geographical remoteness, rather than any cultural reasons, to why fewer Indigenous young people consider STEM careers.
“I think that sometimes universities and STEM companies put all their focus on metro cities. Rural centres are so far away from that, and there’s not a lot of engagement there.
“But in those communities are really rich untapped sources of potential for students to do well,” she says.
Griffin has always been fascinated by aeronautical engineering.
“I always had an interest in planes but where I grew up, you know, we didn’t see a lot of them. I didn’t travel much as a kid and hadn’t really been on a plane until I was quite later in life.”
But engineering nearly lost her to the Law and politics.
“When I was going through high school, a majority of my subjects were STEM-based. But when I graduated, I actually got accepted into study law.
“I did a year of that, thinking I could be a politician, but it didn’t work out. And so, after a year, I changed from law to engineering, something that I’d always loved,” she explains.
“I went back to what my interests were, and everything just fell into place from then on.”
She interned at Boeing Defence Australia in late 2017 before her graduation in 2018.
The company welcomed her back as a graduate systems engineer in January.
She is based in Brisbane as part of the team working to upgrade the RAAF’s six E-7A Wedgetail early warning and operations command aircraft. The planes are based on the Boeing 737-700 platform and their advanced Multi-Role Electronically Scanned Array (MESA) radar can track airborne and maritime targets simultaneously.
“My job is in the test team,” she says. “We test the modifications and upgrades to the aircraft – flight checks, ground checks, any kind of tests really. Then we write documents to verify that the testing is compliant and does what it’s supposed to, and away the aircraft goes back into service.”
She believes that educators are getting better at explaining the benefits of STEM education to young people. But she says more work still needs to be done.
At Boeing, she is a corporate social responsibility ambassador and as part of that she visits rural schools, engaging with students and promoting STEM and higher education.
“Hopefully I make a small impact,” she says.
She hopes to stay with Boeing.
“I feel very motivated at this point. I’d like to stay in Boeing. They’re doing a lot of good work with a reconciliation action plan, and I’m heavily involved in that. It’s a great initiative that shows that they’re going to give back to the Indigenous community,” she says.
“And that’s something that’s really important to me, being Indigenous myself.”