Marita Cheng is the 2012 Young Australian of the Year. She received the award for demonstrating vision and leadership well beyond her years as the Founder and Executive Director of Robogals Global. Noticing the low number of girls in her engineering classes at the University of Melbourne, Marita rounded up her fellow engineering peers and they went to schools to teach girls robotics, as a way to encourage girls into engineering. While on academic exchange at Imperial College London, Marita expanded the group to London and through innovation and sheer will, Marita then expanded Robogals throughout Australia, the UK, the USA and Japan. In just 4 years, Robogals has grown to 17 chapters in 4 countries around the world, and taught over 8,000 girls robotics. The group runs robotics workshops, career talks and various other community activities to introduce young women to engineering.
Robogals was internationally recognised in 2011 as a leading youth social initiative through the International Youth Foundation YouthActionNet Fellowship and as a leading programme for encouraging young women into engineering and technology careers through an Anita Borg Institute Change Agent Award. Marita has also been awarded the prestigious Nancy Fairfax Churchill Fellowship, been recognised as one of the top achievers under the age of 30 by the Sandbox Network, and one of the 25 Most Powerful and Influential Young people in the World by Youth Service America, as well as many more awards back home in Australia. Marita serves as a Board Member for the Foundation for Young Australians.
Through Marita's many awards and travel opportunities, Marita has spoken to, moderated panels for and run workshops for crowds from 10 people to over 3000 people in the USA, Mexico, Sweden, the UK, Portugal, Japan and of course Australia. She has also been a panelist on the New Inventors on ABC TV (episode aired 16 March 2011).
Marita was born in Cairns, Queensland, Australia. She grew up in housing commission with her brother and single-parent mother, who worked as a hotel room cleaner. She graduated from high school in 2006 in the top 0.2% of the nation, and that year was awarded Cairns Young Citizen of the Year for her volunteering and extra-curricula efforts, which included winning awards for mathematics, Japanese and piano. Marita speaks English, Cantonese and Japanese.
Marita is currently studying a Bachelor of Engineering (Mechatronics) / Bachelor of Computer Science at the University of Melbourne, thanks to the generosity of the Paterson Scholarship. She is also working on a hardware startup and regularly travels around the country delivering speeches. In her spare time, Marita hangs out and builds robots at Hackerspace Melbourne, watches Glee, cooks, and has a penchant for face masks!