Fiona Holmstrom, the Founder of Stem Punks, is passionate about STEM for girls – Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths – This is her story
Co-Founder and Director of STEM Punks, Fiona Holmstrom believes STEM Education should be accessible for everyone, and believes helping children develop skills in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics will prepare them for a future where they can make a difference. STEM Punks mission is to “Inspire Tomorrow’s Innovators” and teach children about 21st Century Skills by enabling a mindset of creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship.
Fiona’s mission to make STEM Education available to every child has been recognised by the Queensland Government, AusMumpreneur Awards, Women in Technology, and the International Stevie Awards for Women in Business. Of particular interest to Fiona is ensuring equity in education for girls in STEM. Her current project is interviewing women from across the globe in a mission to inspire more girls to enter into STEM fields. Her next project to be announced is offering free STEM Scholarships to remote and regional communities, ethnic groups, minorities, marginalised students, underprivileged school students and historically underrepresented minority groups. As an immigrant to Australia at the age of 6, diversity and inclusivity is important to Fiona, so she wants to honour the students who particularly need STEM but may not have the access or resources due to their location, socio-economic status, race, ability or gender.
Fiona also publishes Future Learning magazine each month which goes into over 9000 schools around Australia and overseas. Her customer-centric focus enables her to run STEM Punks by keeping children at the heart of every business decision made, and ensuring children everywhere are inspired to solve tomorrow’s world problems, today.
Tell us how your journey started
When I was 8 years old my brother was given a computer. When he wasn’t around I taught myself how to code and how to create games and challenges. I knew from early on that my career would involve technology, however it wasn’t until decades later that this came to fruition. I was never able to pursue a uni education straight after finishing school. After a career in the corporate world, I had children, and left that corporate life behind. Becoming a mum prompted me to seek out leading education systems from around the world, to discover what was best for my own children. From Scandinavia to the Middle East to North America and everywhere in between, I found that STEM appeared in Curriculums everywhere – everywhere except Australia.
So, I set about to change that, and STEM Punks was born in 2017. Initially what started as writing coding classes for local kids in my garage has now become a global business. I also used my early experience of not being given a computer – because it was “a boy thing” – to spur on my personal mission to ensure more girls enter STEM and don’t suffer the same gender bias I did. As an early STEM career professional (age aside) I’ve achieved some incredible things over the last four years, but particularly the transition of the business from a face-to-face business model to an online model during COVID. After losing eight months of income in early 2020, I had to fully embrace the opportunity to digitise the business for the future and for the big goal of making STEM accessible to more children globally. Of note is equity in education by utilising world-leading STEM practices. There’s no need for state-of-the-art learning facilities which require budget and resources, thereby bringing real learning to students from ALL backgrounds. I believe STEM is for everyone.
What led you to create your business/or work in the field you are in?
Education is vitally important to me. I immigrated to Australia as a 6 year old for a better way of life, better opportunities, and better education options. When I was 8, my brother was given a computer. “Computers aren’t for girls” I was told. I secretly used that computer and taught myself how to code, how to create games and puzzles and solve challenges. Technology was a part of my life early on, but it wasn’t until many decades later that technology and education would come together to forge my future. I put myself through two degrees as a mum with 3 babies under 18 months, so I appreciate the value of education, even though for me it happened later in life.
While researching education options for my children, I found that STEM kept coming up in curriculums everywhere, from Scandinavia, to the Middle East, US, UK – everywhere except Australia, and I set about to change that, so STEM Punks was born with coding and robotics classes in my garage for after school classes for local kids. Almost five years after its inception, STEM Punks is an established global education brand known for its excellent learning outcomes and quality world-leading STEM education.
Over the past 12 months, myself and my team have won many significant national and international awards, often competing against power players in the education space. STEM Punks was created to provide kids and adults with a mindset of innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship to enable them to solve the problems of tomorrow today. These are opportunities I never had as a child, so it was important to me to see other children being able to access education. There was a need to bridge the gap between ideas and valuable outcomes, and to give students an ability to apply STEM skills in real-world problem-solving. Everything STEM Punks teaches children links curriculum to industry and the real world. I believe no child should miss out on technology or education, particularly girls.
We’ve since pivoted many times over since COVID, mainly in the online space with a Learning Management System (LMS) that takes STEM Education into classrooms all over the world, and now our latest offering is the world’s first streaming platform dedicated to STEM Education. Stempunks.tv is available on the web, and for iOS and Android. It’s like a Netflix for STEM and we have self-produced entertaining educational TV shows for kids that is based on a subscription model. This goes hand-in-hand with our mission to provide high quality, low-cost or no-cost STEM Education to children all over the world. I believe the world doesn’t need more ideas, what we need is a generation of problem solvers that can transform ideas into value.
New technologies enable new industries and opportunities beyond our imagination. An increasing gap between the people with the knowledge and the people without, will create a greater divide in our global society. The population on earth is growing with global challenges in energy, climate, and sustainable living. We require a global approach to solve these issues and strong leaders with the right skills. Through STEM Education, I see a bright future in the next generation, where all children have access to the skills needed to create a better world with opportunities for everyone.
What are you passionate about?
Those who know me, know I am passionate about bringing digital skills to the people, particularly to girls. My sons are often asked if they’ll grow up to be engineers – my daughter never gets asked that question. I am working on bringing to life the STEM Sisters project to provide a pathway for schoolgirls to gain new STEM skills exploring future careers in STEM, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship, supported online by a global network of award- winning STEM experts and successful businesswomen and female entrepreneurs.
The five- stage engagement-framework enables a structured learning process with a core purpose to build strong, confident women that can apply STEM and entrepreneurial skills in their future career paths and leadership roles. We want to expand our presence in lower socio- economic areas and third-world countries. We have a vision to further grow our school programs for girls in Ghana that have been running for the past 12 months. We are not there yet but if we can achieve half of what we did in 2020 over the next 12 months, we will be way beyond our current goals. My desire is to create Scholarships for remote and regional communities, ethnic groups, marginalised students, underprivileged school students and historically underrepresented minority groups, empowering children with a mindset of innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship at no cost.
Everything STEM Punks does is cemented in equity in education by utilising world-leading STEM practices. By showcasing leading women in STEM from across the world, not just focusing on the stereotypical jobs but the whole gamut of STEM careers, I am confident we can empower children with a bright STEM future starting right here in Australia. In short, I see STEM Punks as the one-stop-global-shop for STEM education with a fully scalable business model based on subscriptions, on-demand content, and industry partnerships.
What advice do you have for other women 40+ who are wanting to make an impact in the community or the world?
Don’t be afraid to try and fail. Fail fast, fail frequently, fail forward. Our childhood and schooling sets us up to believe that failure is bad, when in fact it’s quite the opposite. The more we embrace failure, the faster we succeed. There are plenty of books and podcasts you can read and listen to, which are great resources for those looking for advice and leadership tips. The other way is to look for a mentor. It could be someone you’ll likely never meet, or someone you already know.
Tap into what they do well and emulate their methodologies. Get out of your comfort zone. Absolutely arm yourself with as much knowledge as you can. Whether its self-development or an actual course or qualification, the more knowledge you can have is never a bad thing. Don’t let age be a barrier to trying. We have knowledge, skills, and lived experience that people half our age don’t have; the wisdom we have is largely powerful, so use that agency to your advantage.
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