Sky is not the limit
For over two years UNICEF and Al-Farabi Kazakh National University have been successfully promoting STEM education among girls
In January 2020, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Science and Technology Park of Al-Farabi Kazakh National University announced the admission of girls to UniSat, a unique educational nanosatellite project. Two years ago, 20 girls aged 14-35 from throughout Kazakhstan took a five-month course in spacecraft engineering. In 2021, with the pilot project being a success, the number of participants grew 100-fold, and the geography was extended to Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.
More than 150 girls from three Central Asian countries launched three nanosatellites into the stratosphere on March 27, 2022.
“It’s a truly incredible feeling that we were able to assemble our own vehicle capable of taking off, and that we then established communication with it,”
“They should come out here and check out the launch!” adds Elina Orozobekova, a 16-year-old girl from Kyrgyzstan, addressing the future UniSat participants.
The application for the third cycle of training is open until the beginning of February.
No specific knowledge of physics or astronomy was required of any of the participants. What the organizers were looking for in the candidates was their genuine interest in the project. The mentors and coordinators had the goal of helping more girls enter STEM programs. Only 14% of Kazakhstani girls graduating from local universities have a STEM major.
“Science is not something that chooses whether you’re a boy or a girl, an adult or a youngster. In science, you can develop regardless of who you are or what you are like,”
“This project is a great opportunity to show that girls can be successful in this field. I hope that after watching us, other girls will also consider trying themselves out,”
Besides triggering systemic change, the project also enhances social connections between active and purposeful girls of the region.
“Thanks to this program I met versatile, extremely smart and clever girls from other countries. We share our thoughts with each other,” says 18-year-old Aidana Azerbayeva, a UniSat participant from Kazakhstan.
“During the UniSat project I managed to meet many of ambitious girls who want to develop in the STEM field. I have already made some friends, and we even have common plans with some of the girls,” says Ayimzhan Ashyrbek.
The girls received a confidence boost from successful women in their fields who shared their inspiring stories online: for example, the Commissioner for Children’s Rights in Kazakhstan Aruzhan Sain, IT entrepreneur Alyona Tkachenko, Majiliswoman Aizhan Skakova, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in Kazakhstan Dinara Saduakasova. The first guest, by the way, was Alyssa Carson, 21-year-old American known for her dream and intention to be among the first to fly to Mars.
“Some girls want to work in this field but don’t know where to start. I think this program (UniSat - ed.) is a good fit for us. Here, we can understand how it’s done,”
Participating in the project helped Amina give up thinking that she would not be able to master any IT-tools. Today she feels capable of many things and admits that her mistakes and difficulties only make her faith in her abilities stronger.