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24 May, 2016

An interview with Marita Cheng

2012 Young Australian of the Year and Kumon Maths Completer

We were delighted to have Kumon Graduate, Marita Cheng, speak at the 2016 Kumon Japan Conference held in Kobe, Japan, in March. In 2012, Marita was awarded Young Australian of the Year, and award which recognised the contributions Marita made through her organisation, ‘Robogals’. The below interview was conducted with Marita at the Kumon Japan Conference.

Q: How did you get started in Kumon?
A: I first encountered Kumon when I was 11 and I said to my mum, ‘There's a Maths Programme called Kumon. It looks fun!’ Though my family was poor, my mum believed education was the most important thing she could provide for her children. She worked hard cleaning hotel rooms so I could go to Kumon, piano lessons and language classes.

Q: How do you feel Kumon benefited you?
A: I was already at the top of my class for maths but by doing Kumon, I came to have more confidence in myself. And beyond maths, Kumon taught me that there are some things in life with no easy path to success. Doing Kumon taught me to sit down, do the work consistently and keep striving towards my goals and I think that’s one of the best lessons anyone can learn.

Q: What books did you read growing up?
A: I loved reading books as a child and I still do. My mother used to read picture books to me but her English wasn’t perfect. Gradually, I came to read books by myself so I would go to the library every week and read all the books that looked interesting. My favourites were adventure books and mystery. I loved stories of young, strong and powerful heroines.

Q: What lead you to become interested in robotics?
A: At the age of 12, I thought robots were cool and I wondered how helpful it would be if they were all around the world. I started thinking more about technology and making robots became my dream. I left home when I was 17 and entered the University of Melbourne. Though I have lived apart from my mum since then, she is always supportive. She tells me to keep trying and to keep working hard.

Marita as a guest speaker at a Kumon Advanced Student Forum.

Q: Tell us about your organisation, Robogals.
A: At the age of 19, I founded a student-run organisation called Robogals. We ran workshops to introduce girls to the robotics industry. We reached more than 50,000 girls at schools in Australia and other countries like the UK, USA and Japan. At the workshops, we always tried to show girls how interesting robotics is. I also make speeches so that they feel, ‘If Marita, a girl in her 20s can work with companies like Apple, I can do it too!’ In 2012, I was awarded ‘Young Australian of the Year’ for my dedication to engaging young women in the field of engineering.

Q: After achieving so much at a young age, what are your goals for the future?
A: My short term goals are to finish my current robotics project and progressively take on bigger projects. Through this, I will learn a lot more for my future. My ultimate goal in life is to create technology that helps people. I always think of doing something for other people, not for myself.

Q: Would you like to give any advice to parents or students?
A: For students, I would like to say, ‘Do whatever you are interested in.’ Find an interest and study it and you'll realise there are lots of opportunities in the world. To parents who have young children, I would recommend that they encourage their children to read. It helps to develop their imagination and language and it might lead each child to create his or her future. Also, I would recommend all children to establish a strong foundation in English and mathematics. I think these are essential for all fields of work in the future. If you are confident in maths, you can work with people anywhere in the world.

Related Links
2Mar Robotics - http://2mar.com/
Aipoly - http://aipoly.com/

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