Dr Karen Joyce is Co-Founder and Chief Education Officer at She Flies and a Senior Lecturer in Remote Sensing at James Cook University. Karen studied a PhD in Geographical Sciences where her research focussed on using satellites and aerial cameras to map different types of coral and algae on the Great Barrier Reef. She joined the Australian Defence Force after leaving university, working in the Army as a Geomatic Engineering Officer. Karen then worked in New Zealand for the Department of Conservation, and after that GNS Science mapping New Zealand’s natural hazards including floods, volcanoes, landslides, and earthquake impacts.
In 2009, Karen commenced teaching remote sensing at universities, and in 2016 she Co-Founded She Flies with Dr Catherine Ball based on the duo’s shared goal to change the way society regards female drone pilots. The two visionaries have forged a successful business that teaches thousands of Australian girls aged 10 to 17 to pilot and program drones, based on curriculum that Karen has developed.
You are currently Chief Education Officer and Co-Founder of She Flies. Tell us about why you co-founded She Flies and what the business has achieved since launching?
I co-founded She Flies to tackle two main challenges that I believe affect the future aspirations of our youth, which ultimately negatively impacts Australia’s economy. The first challenge is that drones are perceived to be a ‘boy’s toy’ and this is represents just one example of an area of science, technology, engineering, and maths where girls lack confidence and hold back.
The second challenge is the stereotypical view of science being limited to lab coats and test tubes. As a scientist who works with neither of these things, I wanted to be able to share all the cool things that I do with my science, which is all about using drones to monitor the environment.
She Flies has taught thousands of students and teachers around Australia how drones can be used in real world applications. We have run more than one hundred programs over the past year and have been fortunate enough to receive Federal and State Government support for a number them. Our instructors are based around Australia, and have even set up a team of in North Carolina, USA to meet the growing demand over there!
We were selected as one of Queensland’s 100 faces of small businesses earlier this year, and were also a finalist in the Cairns Business Excellence Awards. We have some big things ahead as well, as we prepare to launch our online learning system to help support teachers around the world to bring drone technology into their classrooms.
Tell us about She Flies drone camps where girls age 10 to 17 learn to pilot and program drones.
While we run a range of programs from as short as 60 minutes, our drone camps are a really special 2-3 day program. They really allow students and teachers to spend an extended period of time engaging with drone technology and all that it offers to real-world applications. Our participants explore all sorts of activities including aerial photography, weed eradication, search and rescue, synchronized drone dancing (dronetainment!), even re-supplying the International Space Station to name a few.
But what this list doesn’t give you is a sense of team, fun, friendship, and empowerment that we build throughout the camp. We also ask participants to create a video of their experience to share with each other (and the world!). These videos tell fabulous stories – for girls, by girls. Here’s a great one to watch, and there are many more on our YouTube channel.
With a PhD in Geographical Sciences and as a Senior Lecturer in Remote Sensing, what are the most exciting future technology trends in your field?
So many things! Cloud data processing, machine learning, open access image data repositories, real time image processing on board drones, swarming drones, long range beyond line of sight drones, AND can you believe that Australia finally has a Space Agency as of 1 July?
Tell us about how your early Defence Force experience contributed to your leadership journey?
The ADF is the only organization I have worked for where they actively train leadership skills at all levels. So many other places promote people along their career pathway because they are technically good at their job, but forget that leadership and management are completely different and additional skill sets that need to be acquired and nurtured. Initially a soldier, and eventually an engineering officer, I was privileged to undertake formal leadership training as well as supported on the job learning.
What has been your greatest challenge?
My greatest challenge is and continues to be finding a balance within and between my personal and professional life. I am a university academic, small business co-founder, group fitness instructor, and I have a young family. Finding ‘me-time’ can be really hard!
What are you most proud of?
With She Flies I am most proud of seeing my Instructor team successfully teach the program I developed. It was quite cool to have to ‘clone’ myself and my teaching so that we could scale the business across the country. So when I see them running with the mission and making it their own as well, I definitely feel that together we are achieving great things.
What’s one piece of advice for future female leaders?
Find the space where what you love doing is the same as what you are great at – that’s where the magic happens.
You are the female economy. Whether you are a female consumer, business owner or a woman in the workforce, you can create gender equality by choosing female led brands.