#WĀHINEWEDNESDAY: Mikayla Stokes
Paving the way for girls in male-dominated fields
Mikayla Stokes is a robotics superstar who, not surprisingly, loves making 3D printed earrings, light-up dresses, and doing thrift flips with her unique skill-set! This degree of renovation, which unfortunately is beyond the reach of those of us who rely merely on a needle and thread, creates some exciting outfits!
Mikayla battles with anxiety at times, so finding space to relax is incredibly important for her. She finds the best way to relax is reading a book, as it creates her own little world! A favourite spot to also relax and rejuvenate includes sitting by the waterfront at the end of Queen Street in Auckland at night. This place provides Mikayla with a serene and peaceful environment, with a beautiful view of the city lights.
Mikayla is weirdly freaked out by snails; there is just something about them that she believes is absolutely terrifying. We agree!
Mikayla is an ambassador and two-time winner of Skills Bright Sparks, a New Zealand-based competition for inventors and is also co-founder of TechGirlsNZ. She is a talented, ambitious and authentic young woman, achieving greatness in her fields of interest and passion!
We were so lucky to have Mikayla share more about herself, in the Q&A below:
Below are some quick-fire questions to get to know a bit more about Mikayla:
1. What's something you would want to learn, or wish you were better at?
I really want to get better at sewing. It’s never been something I was very good at, but now that I am doing more with wearable technology, I’ve realised how cool it is to come up with an idea for a garment and making it just for you!
2. What's your favourite place on Earth?
I am incredibly indecisive, so I can never choose. I’m pretty content on being anywhere as long as I have easy access to nature, like trees and the beach.
3. Whittakers or Cadbury?
Whittakers all the way! It’s just so much better in taste and quality. I remember once I was trying to make a knock-off of the Lewis Road Chocolate milk at home, and I tried using Cadbury chocolate instead of Whittakers. It was basically milk with cardboard tasting sludge at the bottom of the bottle. I will never look at Cadbury the same way again...
You have been described as an up-and-coming robotics superstar. Safe to say that is an impressive accolade!
What do your robots look like and do they have a purpose? (are they anything like Hugh Jackman’s prize-winning robot from ‘Real Steel’?!)
My robots can vary from a 7 foot tall robot that managed to bite my arm, to a robotic gorilla I built for a TV show. I haven’t ever built the classic “fighting style” robots seen in movies. Instead, I mostly create ones that are like remote control cars with big mechanical arms that solve some sort of problem or complete a task.
You are both an ambassador and two-time winner of Skills Bright Sparks, a New Zealand-based competition for inventors.
How do you prepare for this competition? What was your winning ‘formula’?
A big part about inventing, is thinking about it as if you are making a product. You need to ask the following questions: what problem does it solve, does anyone actually have this problem, what are the basic functions it needs to do?
What I realised was that there is a really great relationship between entrepreneurship and engineering. You need to go out and talk to your customers, and then build something that suits their needs. You can come up with a super cool idea, but if no one has a use for it, then what's the point? Talking to your potential customers is how you improve your invention and find your purpose.
You’re extremely passionate about all things STEM-related, and seek to encourage other girls to study science, technology, engineering and maths. This is partly due to your own experiences in this field.
Can you share your own experiences and what steps you’ve taken to help promote and encourage other young women to become involved in the aforementioned subjects?
Throughout highschool, I was the only girl in my maths and science classes. None of my friends were interested in the same things I was, and I definitely stuck out in the crowd. Every time I heard about a new tech event for girls, I would go along hoping to meet other like-minded people and learn new things. But it was the same thing every time. Awkward. Listening to a guy in a business suit brag about his unattainable achievements, rather than showing us a path to get to success. These events had a severe lack of inspiration, relatability, and engagement. The only value I got from them was some free pizza!
Once I was at an awards ceremony and was talking to someone who worked for a tech company that occasionally ran these sorts of events. I was trying to explain my frustrations, and that I thought maybe I should start running my own events. He told me that I didn’t know what I was doing or what these events needed, and that I should leave it up to people in the industry. This made me so mad that I went home and cried from frustration. This mindset is the reason why these kinds of events didn’t exist. It's like someone trying to solve someone’s problem without actually talking to the person involved.
That night I decided that I was going to start running my own events, and nothing was going to stop me!
Our first event went super well, but we were struggling with the fact that we could only reach a small group of people at each event, making our impact very minimal. Then Covid-19 happened and any future events were thrown out the window.
Dr Michelle Dickenson (aka Nanogirl) offered to be our mentor, and together we started running online workshops, so we had the potential to give every kid around NZ the opportunity to learn how to solve problems and improve the world with tech. We were one of the six winners of the TSB Good Stuff grant, and were given $30k to launch our initiative and give free workshops to kids in need.
What are your next steps, ambitions and dreams post-engineering studies?
I want to grow my social enterprise, so that I am able to give youth leadership opportunities within the organisation. I want to continue enabling this unique connection of youth teaching youth, and teaching them how to be science communicators. I also want to be working for innovative start ups, where I can help develop and invent things to solve the problems of people around the world.
Last year, I had the most amazing job working on two children's TV shows, and I would love to get into that part of the industry again
Lastly, has anyone guided or supported you so far? Can you share who and how they helped you?
Definitely my Dad. Anxiety and believing in myself has always been my greatest struggle. No matter how many things I’ve done, I find it so difficult to build enough confidence to do the next thing. He helped me to learn how to believe in myself, pursue what I’m passionate about and stand up for what I believe in. He helped me find my voice.
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