Kirsten Benkendorff shines as Superstar of STEM for next generation

Published 18 November 2022
A woman wearing a SCU shirt in front of an underwater mural

A seafood sentinel marine scientist from Southern Cross University has been announced as one of Australia’s newest Superstars of STEM, a program that tackles the gender inequity of visible diverse role models in the media.

Professor Kirsten Benkendorff is among a select group of 60 diverse and brilliant scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians unveiled today by the Minister for Industry and Science, Ed Husic, at a ceremony in Canberra.

Professor Benkendorff has the honour of being Southern Cross University’s inaugural appointment to the Superstar of STEM program. She is based at the National Marine Science Centre in Coffs Harbour.

Professor Benkendorff’s research investigates ways to safeguard the health of our oceans and the seafood we eat. In particular, ways to reduce the impacts of climate change and agricultural run-off to ensure shellfish health and high-quality seafood. Learn more on the Science and Technology Australia website.

Superstars of STEM is an initiative to smash gender assumptions about who can work in science, technology, engineering and maths. Those selected are given training and networking opportunities to become sought-after media commentators as experts in their fields while at the same time promoting roles for women and girls.

Minister Husic congratulated Professor Benkendorff and her Superstar peers for stepping into the public arena to help inspire the next generations of diverse young Australians into STEM.

“The need to boost diversity in our science, technology, engineering and mathematics sector is urgent,” he said.

"There are huge skills shortages that can be addressed if we put our minds and collective effort to it – which means we have to draw deeply on our nation’s expertise from all corners of the community. By doing so, we can deliver a stellar boost to our national economy and enable Australia to meet the growing demand for STEM-trained workers.

“I've always been a fan of the way the Superstars of STEM program pushes to deliver a diverse STEM workforce and ensures the next generation of scientists and technologists have visible role models. I just know these talented experts and communicators will play their part inspiring Australia’s young people – from all backgrounds – into science and technology.”

Professor Benkendorff said she was thrilled to have been chosen from a highly-competitive national field.

“I am very excited to have this opportunity to be a role model for women in science. Science and technology are essential for solving the complex global challenges we are currently facing. I hope I can inspire others to become part of the solution,” said Professor Benkendorff.

“I wanted to be David Attenborough when I was young. In pursuing my dream, I learned that research is what engaged me more than anything. It’s satisfying to make discoveries and solve problems. Ultimately, healthy environments provide a range of essential ecosystem services that we all depend on.”

Professor Tyrone Carlin, Vice Chancellor and President of Southern Cross University, congratulated Kirsten Benkendorff.

“Here at Southern Cross, we’ve long-regarded Kirsten as a STEM superstar. To have her recognised on the national stage, among an elite group of clever scientists, is testament to Kirsten’s talents both as a communicator and a researcher,” said Professor Carlin.

Science & Technology Australia Chief Executive Officer Misha Schubert said the program gave women and non-binary talent in STEM crucial skills and confidence to step into expert commentary roles in the media.

“We know it’s really hard to be what you can’t see,” she said. “That’s why this game-changing program is helping to smash stereotypes of what a scientist, technologist, engineer or mathematician looks like.

“By becoming highly visible role models in the media, these Superstars of STEM are showing our diverse next generations of young people - especially our girls and non-binary kids - that STEM is for them.

“Superstars of STEM is powerfully shifting the dial on diversity in Australia’s science and technology sectors. The Australian Government's investment in this world-leading program is bolstering diversity in a sector that will shape our future economy. We are so grateful for it.”

Media contact: Sharlene King, media office at Southern Cross University 0429 661 349 or