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Dr Jillian

Award-winning entrepreneur and expert in STEM education and diversity


Dr Jillian Kenny is an engineer and educator. As a Lecturer at The University of Melbourne, she specialises in teaching, with a keen focus on innovation, entrepreneurship and outreach for science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) and related disciplines.

Recently, Jillian has taken on the challenge of attaining her pilot’s licence. She had never thought about becoming a pilot until she flew upside down in an ex-military fighter jet. Now, she is putting her skills to the test, and to keep things interesting, is learning in a Pacific Aerospace CT4E - an aerobatic military training aircraft that was previously used to teach Royal New Zealand Air Force pilots their stuff.
Growing up under ordinary circumstances in a tiny town in country Australia, she strives to empower young people to discover opportunities far beyond what they imagined possible for themselves. This ambition led to her co-founding the non-profit organisation Power of Engineering, aiming to inspire girls and regional students to consider engineering careers, and later, the company Maths In Real Life, providing real-world mathematics resources for high school students.

Her work providing opportunities for non-traditional entrants into STEM professions has resulted in being named as one of the inaugural Superstars of STEM by Science and Technology Australia, among Australia's Top 100 Most Influential Women by the Australian Financial Review, and as one of Ten Emerging Women in Engineering by Engineers Australia.

Since completing a PhD exploring innovation in Australia’s vital water sector, Jillian has applied the insight and experience gained through this process to a range of sectors including education, health and water.
Jillian speaks on various topics including education, diversity, innovation and curiosity-led careers to education, corporate and government audiences.

Talking Points

Uncommon: A Curiosity-led Career

Chaotic, confused, haywire. Maybe. Her approach to careers has always been… uncommon. Growing up, she believed the fairy tale. She thought she would get a J.O.B., climb the career ladder and eventually reach the pinnacle. But for speaker, entrepreneur and engineer Dr Jillian Kenny that model never did quite fit. In this talk, Jillian peels back the curtain on an atypical approach to career construction, showing how curiosity as a guide can lead to fun and fulfillment.

Professionals, lifestyle audiences, young leaders, entrepreneurs, educators, students

In this talk, Jillian will discuss:

- The unexpected places a curiosity-led career has taken her - on the ground and skyward
- How embracing curiosity can lead YOU on a surprising and meaningful career trajectory
- The not-so-secret-sauce for crafting your own curiosity-led career.

Towards Diversity: Progressing from Empowerment to Power

As a woman playing in male-dominated fields for most of her career, Dr Jillian Kenny has heard more than her share of ‘empowerment’ tips. She’s learned how to deepen her voice, power her pose and fake it ‘til she makes it. In this uplifting talk, Jillian argues that the burden of change should not lie on individuals, but on organisations and systems of power. She asks the question: What if, rather than having our attention on empowerment, we instead reimagine the systems of power that shape our world?

Business leaders, executives, corporates, professionals

In this talk, Jillian will discuss:

- How the empowerment economy is a consolation prize for women
- Key ways to recognise and value different forms of power
- An approach to creating a new, more inclusive power system

Diversity as a Superpower

Although we often tend to be more comfortable - and perhaps happier - in organisations and situations that match our cultures, values and beliefs, it's often the ones where we don't quite 'fit' that we can contribute the most. This is the paradox of diversity.

Professionals, young leaders, business leaders, lifestyle audiences, entrepreneurs

In this talk, Jillian discusses how we can understand, embrace and leverage our difference, turning it into a superpower.

Key takeaways:
- Discover your unique difference
- Understand how your difference can add value
- Learn how to tap into your unique difference and turn it into a superpower.

NOTE: This session can also be run as an interactive workshop.

Creative Leadership in Uncertain Times

The world is changing faster than it ever has before. The future is a blank canvas, and in creating this future we need leaders who can think beyond the traditional approaches and norms of the past. Leaders who can bring creativity. Through sharing some of the challenging and vulnerable moments in her own story, Jillian will reveal the elements for creative leadership and why it is critical for leading organisations into an uncertain future.

Business leaders, professionals, corporates, young leaders, entrepreneurs

Key takeaways:

- Why creativity is important for leaders (especially in STEM)
- The five pillars for creativity in leadership
- How you can apply them into your own leadership practice

Why Maths?

Why maths? Remember back in high school when you used to rush to mathematics class thinking, ‘YES, I can’t wait to get stuck into these non-linear equations today’? No? Alright, no one was really thinking that.

Especially engineer and entrepreneur, Dr Jillian Kenny, who in high school thought maths was totally irrelevant for her future. In fact, from Year 9 onwards, all she wanted to be was a lawyer… just like Ally McBeal.

In this eye-opening talk, Jillian shares her own journey, about how she went from being the kid sitting in the back row and questioning the purpose of maths, to valuing it so much that she created a company to build her very own real-world maths resources.

Jillian will discuss:
* why maths is important in preparing young people for the future of work (and how the answer may not be what we think it is)
* five unexpected ways she uses maths in her day-to-day life
* how to engage young people in maths

NOTE: this talk is primarily for educators, but a modified version is available for students Audience:
Educators, students

Engineering: The Myths and the Facts

Having spoken to thousands of students through her non-profit Power of Engineering, Jillian noticed a number of common myths about science, technology, engineering and maths careers. In this talk she busts the myths and shares the facts, leaving students with the message that even if they don’t think of themselves as a STEM person, there might just be something in it for them.

Primary or secondary students, educators, parents
We were recommended Dr Jillian Kenny for the graduation address at the Defence Science Technology Group’s Graduate Program in Scientific Leadership. It became clear to us why Jillian was named the inaugural ‘Superstar of STEM’ and one of the '100 Most Influential Australian Women'; Jillian didn’t just deliver a passionate speech, she captivated her audiences with her expressive energy and compelling storytelling of her journey. Jillian artfully weaved her description of the “Five Pillars of Leadership” into her storytelling. Her story inspired the audience, and her openness in sharing her vulnerable and challenging moments in her journey spoke of authenticity. The impact of Jillian’s message continues to be felt amongst those of us who were lucky to hear her speech. Defence Science & Technology Group, Department of Defence

Dr Jillian Kenny presented to our agency during our International Women’s Day celebrations. Jillian’s presentation was a funny, thought-provoking, inspiring and empowering examination of her own career progression and gender equality in STEM more broadly. Her call to action to promote gender equality at the end of the presentation was particularly poignant, with many of our staff members coming away from her presentation having committed to actions that will improve gender equality within their workplace and industry.

Murray-Darling Basin Authority

Ford Australia invited Jillian to speak at our recent International Women’s Day event. Her presentation about how she started her social enterprises in the STEAM space were inspiring and provided positive energy to a room of local high school girls and Ford employees. Alongside her personal story of success she gave the audience an informative, engaging and fresh perspective on what it means to be 'An Engineer' in the modern world. Thank you Jillian!

PD Innovation Team

Dr Jillian Kenny was the keynote speaker at our University of Queensland, Faculty ‘Powering Ahead’ Professional development event attended by Engineering Alumni and industry professionals. Jillian’s presentation on 'Towards Diversity: Progressing from Empowerment to Power' was engaging, inspirational and thought provoking and the perfect way to set the scene for the afternoon. In addition to sharing her personal journey and experience, she discussed that influencing gender equality change should not lie with individuals, but on organisations and systems of power that shape our world. Jillian’s keynote generated in-depth discussion and resonated strongly with attendees who shared ample positive feedback regarding her session. Thanks very much Jillian!

Faculty of Engineering, Architecture and Information Technology

illian came to Forest Hill College to speak to our students about the importance of science and engineering and how fulfilling these fields are to work in. She inspired the kids with stories of how engineers design solutions to help people, and explained clearly how creativity and problem-solving are key to successful engineering - not just being good at Maths! Jillian is a great communicator and the students connected with her - many young girls said to me that she was a great role model for them and helped them believe that engineering was something they could actually do. After Jillian spoke she stayed with our students while they worked on design solutions to encourage them, to lead them in creativity and to prompt clear thinking from them. We were amazed at her generosity of time and spirit and would highly recommend her to any organisation who wants to inspire and create. Thank you Jillian!

Forest Hill College
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