UQ connects students to a transforming industry

9 May 2019

Thirty female high school students will experience life as an engineer for a day at organisations equally committed to a more equitable gender balance for engineering.

The University of Queensland’s Women in Engineering (WE) team will connect engineering industry giants Rio Tinto and Ergon Energy Network and Energex, as part of the Energy Queensland Group, with outstanding female high school students as part of UQ’s WE Explore Engineering event this week.

Support from industry partners has prompted a steady increase in women participating in undergraduate engineering studies at UQ and in-turn pursuing careers in engineering.

UQ is at the front of the pack among Australian universities, increasing the number of female engineering students beginning their programs in 2019 to 24.3 per cent, compared to the national average of approximately 18 per cent.

The high school students will learn from current professionals about how engineers use new technologies to deliver innovative solutions, shining light on the diverse roles and opportunities that come with the field.

The students, selected from All Hallows’ School and Kedron State High School, first attended a workshop at UQ’s St Lucia campus on Thursday (9 May) as part of the 150-strong cohort of keen maths and science high achievers, before participating in this exclusive experience.

UQ’s campus experience included hands-on workshops for the year 9, 10 and 11 students, spanning key impact areas for engineering, including how to provide clean water for developing countries; developing new advanced technologies like rockets and prosthetic limbs, as well as the importance of renewable energy.

They also met current female engineering students and visited UQ’s state-of-art engineering facilities.

In the industry-wide struggle for improved gender diversity, both companies and universities recognise the power of empowering young women throughout high school, and the influence of their teachers.

For the first time, WE is also offering a teacher engagement workshop that will provide teachers the opportunity to collaborate and connect, and take part in an interactive brainstorming session discussing topics such as professional development, current challenges in teaching STEM, how to engage female students in STEM and how UQ can engage with schools.

Champion for change, All Hallows’ School Science Curriculum Leader Sean Lynch said encouraging girls into STEM-based careers, including engineering, was a priority.

“This is an exciting opportunity for our young women to engage in an innovative program which will challenge their ideas about what a career or future in engineering or a STEM based field may look like,” Mr Lynch said. 

“I am particularly impressed by the number of female role models that the students will be introduced to. Our students are excited to attend and extremely grateful for the opportunity.”

UQ’s WE program was established seven years ago, as the first program of its kind in Australia, to address gender disparity at both tertiary and industry levels.

Rio Tinto, Australian Power Institute, Powerlink Queensland and Ergon Energy Network and Energex are among sponsors of the program, providing funding, mentorship opportunities and workforce pathways for young women striving for engineering careers.

Energy Queensland’s Chief Transformation Officer, Belinda Watton said the company was proud to offer the opportunity to give an insight into their industry and to inspire the next generation of engineers to work in the evolving energy industry. 

“We believe for any industry to survive nowadays they need to meet and exceed the expectations of community which of course is made up of a wide demographical base,” Ms Watton said.

“We identified this many years ago and right across our business we have people of all ages, genders and from every corner of the globe in technical to senior leadership roles ensuring our business remains attune to the community’s changing needs.”

Rio Tinto Senior Manager Strategic Mine and Resources Planning, Jo-Anne Dudley, said Rio Tinto recognised the importance of technical expertise as well as diversity in their workplaces.

“For that reason we invest in initiatives like the UQ Women in Engineering program to ensure a constant intake of quality technical people,” Ms Dudley said.

“We continue this investment once graduates join Rio Tinto, coordinating ongoing professional opportunities through our technical Centres of Excellence. “

UQ's WE program continues to grow: in the first quarter of 2019, the WE team and student leaders engaged with almost 1000 female high school students - the same number as the total for all of 2017, and triple the number of the same quarter last year.

For more information about the Women in Engineering program and how to engage with us, please visit www.eait.uq.edu.au/we

Media contact: UQ Communications, Genevieve Worrell, g.worrell@uq.edu.au , 0408 432 213. Ergon Energy Network and Energex media team: 07 3664 4420 or 07 3664 5191. Rio Tinto media team: Rachael.Thompson@riotinto.com