An ITF Volunteer Shares Her Career Journey

and why she took part in Girls' Tech Day

Schools Industry Partnership, Adrian Rhodes

Why I took part in Girls in Tech Day

-   or 

 Why Girls’ Tech Day Matters in our Industry


I feel strongly about supporting girls exploring technology fields. It matters, we need a constant stream of passionate and interested graduates to enter printing and manufacturing fields. Let me explain why this is meaningful to me:

Growing up in a family of engineers, I had regular exposure to technical fields. My father worked at Polaroid under Dr Land developing the instant colour film and the manufacturing processes to make it. Later he worked at Digital Equipment Co and Wang labs. Both my grandfathers and great grandfathers were engineers. When I was eight years old my dad taught me to change the oil on his sports car because he couldn’t fit under it, and I could. At ten years old he had me cutting wood on our bandsaw. I was his helper when we built tables, stools and bookcases. At twelve years old he taught me basic electronics including how to solder wires, read the stripes on resistors and schematic diagrams. He gave me kits to build buzzers and radios for Christmas presents.  I had five years of entry level summer jobs as an electronics technician in the first high tech boom around Boston, Massachusetts in the USA. My mother regularly filled a box with scrap shirt cardboard, tubes, boxes, paper. She made sure my brother and I had markers, pencils, glue and tape to make our own creations. No one complained if we got dirty.

As a consequence of my parents support at home, talking to technical people and learning about materials and how to build something was a familiar process. My brother and I were encouraged to study math and science. Now, as part of my work as a paper engineer, a creative and direct marketer,  I am often designing a structure for something I have never made before:  15,000 shaped pieces direct mail, 2500 hand folded origami invitations, 500 custom pop ups for a charity solicitation, ten paper sculpture table  centrepieces, or two 2m high skyscrapers out of board for a corporate event. On each job I consult with printers, die makers, paper companies and others to solve structural and design problems. However, it took me over fifteen years to find a profession that fit. I don’t want other girls going through the frustration and lack of support that I did. I digress…

My high school was all girls, so it was OK to study science and math, computers, as well as art and French. I had great teachers for biology, physics, and computer programming. I imagined myself as a famous scientist discovering new things. Marie Curie here I come. However, university was different.

I began university as a double major in physics and fine art. Many of my lectures had 300 men and two or three women. I was the only woman in my science labs, mechanical drawing, and calculus   classes. No one offered me summer internships that would lead towards a career. My academic advisor treated me like a freak. Male classmates teased each other if they spoke to me. I was very isolated. The idea of having that kind of isolation for thirty years of a career was confronting.  I could have been guided into printing, optics, reading satellite images, aerospace, product design. Many fields need technical expertise combined with visual or artistic judgments. After two years of study I dropped physics and graduated with a BA in fine Art.

It makes me angry and sad that I had so little support. I want to make sure that doesn’t happen to other young women. There was no clear path for women from school to careers in technical fields. The entry level electronics technician jobs I had in summer holidays led nowhere. University gave me no guidance, no mentoring. There was no where I could explore the range of careers in science and technology that where they needed my skills.

Girls’ Tech Day was sponsored by Amazon Web Services and supported by a circle of tech related businesses. Girls could fly drones, code robots, see laser cutters in action, try out an Alexa from Amazon and on a big round table, paper engineering. I run Paper and pixel a boutique design and marketing studio that specialises in helping businesses tell stories using paper. We do design inventive print promotions that engage the senses and inspire response. At Girls’ Tech Day we ran mini workshops guiding girls in cutting and folding paper into three dimensional forms. They learned about fractions, folding paper into eight or twelve sections, geometry, three-dimensional visualisation skills and fine motor skills. It is amazing to me how few children do arts and crafts at home, so many students don’t have any hand skills. They don’t understand materials and how to design for them and work with them. Paper is familiar and a great place to begin.

For me, taking part was helping the next generation of girls feel welcome in technical fields and find their part in it faster than I did.  Adrian Rhodes from Inspiring the Future Australia worked with AWS to run a terrific event. If you can find a part of your processes or products that you can share with a young audience, I’d recommend it. I Hope it is on again next year.  We all want print and paper to stay a vital and dynamic industry with a constant stream of young talent.

Jean Kropper

Paper Engineer, Creative, Direct Marketer

Paper and Pixel

E:  M 0414 980 081