Solange Cunin, 25, moved from her parents' eucalyptus plantation in regional NSW, to Sydney with a passion for space, technology and education. She studied a Bachelors in Mathematics and Aerospace Engineering at University of New South Wales.
In 2015, Solange founded a startup, Cuberider, which pioneered a prestigious STEM education program which allowed students to send their experiments to the International Space Station. She led Cuberider to launch Australia's first and only involvement in the International Space Station in 2016, paving the way for future Australian collaboration in the international space industry. Before successfully selling Cuberider, Solange inspired thousands of students in STEM across Australia. Solange is now leading the NSW STEM Initiative at the CSIRO. Solange was interviewed for the WDSN in May, 2018.
Thanks for chatting with us Solange! I know our readers would love to hear more about how you got into the space industry and then, at such a young age, established Cuberider - can you start by telling us a bit more about that?
I was always going to find a way. I loved space growing up and wanted to get hands on in space projects as soon as I could - I was getting impatient studying at uni! Like starting any business or project, especially complex and ill-defined ones, it's a matter of just getting in there and diving into the deep end. I built my network within space, hit the pavement did the hard yards. I don't think it's any more complicated than that.
What advice do you have for women wanting to get into the space industry?
Have a voice and use it. I've been spoken over or ignored at the table, it's a matter of speaking up and making sure that your seat at the table is used and valued. Part of that is having confidence that what you've got to say is worth hearing.
What podcasts are you currently listening to?
I have been addicted to podcasts for a while now and enjoyed a range of the usual suspects like Radiolab, Planet Money and Freakonomics. Now I have made the switch to audiobooks and have found myself so immersed in learning new things on my daily commute, that it's been a while since I've listened to a podcast. My favourite book this year has been ‘Enlightenment Now’ by Steven Pinker.
What do you see as the main challenges in encouraging young people, particularly women, to get involved in the space industry?
It's not as simple as addressing challenges a, b and c. However, I think there are opportunities to make a difference at key points in the education cycle. More engagement at primary school is clearly going to help, but we also need to see that through to year 12 when students are choosing their higher education. A lot of this is engagement and awareness of opportunities so that young women are aware and excited about the prospects of working in space.
Finally, who inspires you?
In the work I do, and now that being predominantly in STEM education, I am fortunate to engage with inspirational people on a daily basis. Instead of a single person that I find inspirational, I find a set of character traits. I'm inspired by people who devote themselves to a cause (like bringing space to Australia, or boosting STEM in schools), who really care, give whatever they can to their cause (whether that's mentoring on the side or your entire job) and are genuine. There aren't a lot of people who meet that criteria, but those who do, are genuinely amazing to me.
Updated: 18 Dec 2018