Dr Mark Skanes, Managing Director and Principal at Accu Trax Pty Ltd, winner of the STEM Professional of the Year at the 2019 SA Science Awards and IMNIS mentor in South Australia.

“The exciting work you can do and the changes you can make within a STEM career are incredible…”

I’m extremely proud and honoured to have recently been recognised as an Award-Winning STEM Professional at the SA Premier’s Science Excellence Awards. Being acknowledged as the 2019 STEM Professional of the Year from the SA Premier’s Science Excellence Awards is certainly one of those watershed moments in one’s career. The awards evening was stunning and to be included with such an eminent group of inspiring and accomplished scientists and STEM professionals was indeed humbling. They are the best of the best. The evening came with recognition, honour, and the awards were publicly delivered with gratitude and certainly received with humility. To me it meant that my passion in mentoring and in providing leadership in STEM was appreciated and recognised. It has provided encouragement that I may leverage further opportunities to do more of the same but in more of an influential and opportunistic manner and on a more broader and diverse platform.

Young people need to be prepared to think thoroughly and deeply to have the chance to become the innovators, educators, researchers, and leaders who can solve the most pressing challenges facing our nation and our world, both today and tomorrow. Our economy, our health, our standard of living, and our general way of life depends on it. But, right now, I don’t believe enough of our youth have access to the opportunities STEM learning brings and not enough students see STEM disciplines as springboards for their careers. Nonetheless I am convinced that this is changing.  My career to date has relied in part on myself being able to think laterally when it comes to applying the initial engineering skills I have acquired. I have had to manage incognito the integration of science, technology, engineering and mathematics into my career and then throw into the mix a broad level of managerial and business skills. I have not always done this alone and along the way have been fortunate enough to have had, through default and a bit of luck, mentors of my own to help out and take me under their wing. This has been my inspiration for giving back.

There is often an assumption that STEM only refers to science or engineering stuff, but it actually covers a vast array of skills and roles in many different industries, from pharma to financial services. Working as a STEM role model and mentor means that I am often at the forefront of innovation and often I get the privilege and fun of paving the way for those that follow across a diverse range of industries. This is hugely inspiring and exciting. While quite often initiatives and efforts at the corporate level need to be made to encourage more people from diverse backgrounds into STEM, the value of a mentor is undeniable. Aside from being a physical representative of what younger people can be in the future, mentors give personal insights into their career and dispel any misconceptions that may exist. The exciting work you can do and the changes you can make within a STEM career are incredible and part of my responsibilities as a leader and mentor in STEM is to make younger people and less experienced STEM professionals more aware of the differences they can make.

Marian Wright Edelman an American civil rights activist said “You can’t be where you can’t see”. Only as late as 2015 did our Australian education ministers agree to the National STEM in School Education Strategy 2016-2026. It certainly has pushed STEM to the forefront and I applaud our political leaders to that end. The National STEM in School Education Strategy focuses on foundation skills, developing mathematical, scientific and digital literacy and generally improve STEM education in Australia. One doesn’t need to look far to see the growing interest from our youth, our teachers, and our mentors and the progress in STEM since 2016 and I remain a keen advocate supporting the National STEM in School Education Strategy. Part of my aim is to be able to provide to younger people that vision of where they can see.

“…STEM needs to be inclusive within itself.”

STEM in Australia is often treated in isolation such that not enough emphasis is placed on the interdependencies and saliency within STEM itself. For example, science relies on technology, mathematics and engineering and the outcomes of science, technology and mathematics underpins engineering. At first glance it can seem complex but the simplicity of it is that STEM needs to be inclusive within itself. Combine that with building a vibrant culture of diversity, inclusion, and equity across STEM where differences are not barriers to learning and we really have synergy. The resulting depth, uniqueness, diversity in backgrounds and viewpoints surrounding STEM, is powerful, and remains instrumental to the development and delivery of STEM. This is my passion in supporting diversity in STEM and in providing leadership in breaking down barriers, in building relationships, and in influencing equity across STEM.

Receiving recognition and winning this award means to me that I have an obligation to continue mentoring the younger generation by showing them the essence of tenacity, determination, and work ethic along with the opportunities that a career in STEM has to offer. As a mentor or otherwise, everything we do has a cause and effect, whether it is something great or small, our actions contribute and affect society in one way or another. We have to hold ourselves accountable for the quality of our lives and the lives of our future children. We have to lead by example and know that we are being watched by more people than we realise. Social media has greatly extended our capabilities of reaching the masses and we have to be mindful of the content we release into the world. Receiving the South Australian STEM Professional of the Year awards is not just for show, it is a symbol of respect and acceptance of a greater responsibility and remains part of my legacy.

About the Author:

Dr Mark Skanes has over 39 years in leading and consulting project and engineering teams and in providing non-executive company directorships. Over that period Mark has been engaged in senior engineering, NEDs, and consultancy positions within defence, electricity and gas utilities, mining and manufacturing, rail, construction, sporting bodies, and the public service sectors. He is currently the Managing Director and Principal for Accu Trax Pty Ltd advising on corporate governance as well as delivering innovative STEM solutions by way of engineering, reliability centered maintenance, asset management, project delivery and performance improvement. Dr. Skanes is currently an industry mentor in the South Australian IMNIS MedTech-Pharma program. Mark holds a Doctor of Business Administration, an MBA, a Master’s of Maintenance and Reliability Engineering, and a BSc (Applied) from the Royal Military College of Canada. He also is a CPEng and a Fellow of Engineers Australia and a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. Dr. Skanes was the winner of the 2019 SA Premier’s Science Excellence Awards in the STEM Professional category recognizing outstanding contributions to STEM in South Australia. He is also the 2019 recipient of the AGM Michell Medal from the Mechanical College of Engineers Australia for eminence and outstanding national contribution to the Mechanical Engineering Profession. In 2017 Mark was a finalist in the University of Newcastle Alumni Awards for National Leadership Award in business, commerce and industry.