Girls get practical insight into ‘engineering world’

Published 13 December 2010

hollyjodiepicTwenty-four girls from ten high schools around northern NSW have had an experience that, in the words of one of the girls, “opened up the engineering world” to them.

“The University of New England’s inaugural Women in Engineering Weekend went exceptionally well,” said Dr Janelle Wilkes, a lecturer in environmental engineering at UNE who was one of the organisers of the event. “It was wonderful to see the girls engaged in surveying, building bridges, designing highway bypasses, making cars with safety equipment, and designing better pathways for people with mobility difficulties – and to see so many parents come along to the bridge testing and judging, and the information session on careers in engineering.”

The girls – all of them in Years 9-11 – travelled to UNE from Armidale, Coffs Harbour, Gloucester, Grafton, Kempsey, Port Macquarie, Tamworth and Taree for the weekend (Friday 19 – Sunday 21 November) and stayed at UNE’s Mary White College.

UNE – in collaboration with the NSW Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA), Institute of Public Works Engineering Australia (IPWEA), the Women in Engineering group within Engineers Australia, and local professional organisations and employers – is working to attract more women students into engineering. UNE is aiming to boost the percentage of women in its Bachelor of Engineering Technology degree program from the current 8 per cent to 20-25 per cent by 2013. The Women in Engineering Weekend was designed to demonstrate to the participants the value and attractiveness of engineering as a career choice for girls.

“I think the weekend was a great idea – and it opened up the engineering world to me,” said Emma Miller from Coffs Harbour High School. Emma was one of three students whose work over the weekend won them prizes of a week’s work experience with the RTA: the others were Holly Tunningley from Melville High School in Kempsey and Erica Thornton from Taree High School. Lara Gillan from St Paul’s High School, Port Macquarie, won a week’s work experience with Armidale Dumaresq Council. Book prizes went to Alice Jarratt (O’Connor Catholic College, Armidale), Alex Wilson (Gloucester High School), Isabelle Avent (Taree High School), and Alexandra Jones (Taree High School).

“We had support from the RTA – including financial support and personnel who ran many of the activities over the weekend – and support from the IPWEA, Engineers Australia, Armidale Dumaresq Council (ADC), and the local councils in the areas the girls came from,” Dr Wilkes said.

“For a number of the girls the highlight was a tour (led by David Steller, Director of Engineering and Works for ADC) of the Armidale Wastewater Treatment Facility, showing how sewage is treated and used sustainably on land by growing crops,” she said.

THE PHOTOGRAPH displayed here, taken during the Women in Engineering Weekend, shows bridge builders Holly Tunningley (left) and Jodie Bazley from Melville High School in Kempsey.