Karen Kuan has not let the grass grow under her feet. During her time as a Civil Engineering student, she has never stopped questing for opportunities to learn and grow. Through time spent volunteering, leading teams, interning and working as a student ambassador, not to mention her studies, Karen has created an inspirational CV that will no doubt propel her into an opportunity-laden future.

I remember reading somewhere that “Sometimes the smallest step in the right direction ends up being the biggest step of your life” and this couldn’t be more accurate for what happened to me.

But I just want to say from the start, I didn’t plan any of this and it didn’t all come easily. It’s been more like a rollercoaster where one small step led to another and before I could even blink, I’ve found myself on the verge of graduating, actually quite surprised to see the variety of amazing experiences in my back pocket.Karen Kuan

So, I guess the biggest thing I want to say is “It’s ok to be lost and unsure but never be afraid to try things out because you never know where that small step might take you.”

As a bit of background, I came across engineering by accident. I signed up for a “UNSW In A Day” event while I was still in high school, and had to choose three workshops I was interested in. Apart from architecture, nothing jumped out until I saw engineering. I was intrigued, but if I’m completely honest I didn’t really know what engineering was (even after I’d Googled it); but still, there was a little voice saying “Why don’t you give it a try?” so I did.

If I was asked to pinpoint the exact moment I took that first small step that propelled me to where I am today, I would say that was it.

I already knew about the Women in Engineering (WIE) Development Program (through the WIE O-Week Welcome event) so I signed up for that, but another chance step landed me in front of the Engineering Society (EngSoc) stall at O-Week where I spontaneously applied to join their Volunteer Development Program. That was what first year was all about for me. I enjoyed my studies but I loved volunteering for causes I was passionate about and met some lifelong friends on that program.  

In the meantime, my early experiences in the WIE Development Program opened many new doors. Not only did it offer career events like resume and cover letter workshops, presented by industry representatives, it also had a wide range of outreach opportunities. I couldn’t wait to get involved in these and my first engineering outreach workshop was brilliant. I felt like I’d taken an important step forward in balancing my studies with engineering-related extracurricular work.

Throughout my involvement in the WIE Development Program, I continued to be genuinely
impressed by the effort UNSW puts into encouraging females to pursue engineering. There was no end to the small steps that female students like me could take; allowing us to grasp new and interesting opportunities that would equip us with skills for the future.

I for one threw myself into every opportunity and will never forget the feeling of accomplishment I felt when I topped 120 points for my AHEGS at the end of first year from participating in professional workshops and seminars, and volunteering at events like Power of Engineering Day, WIE BBQ, Open Day, Experience IT Workshop Day and Scholarship Buddy Day.

On these occasions I not only met and shared great times with other students but I found several mentors. Mentors who helped me with their tips and tricks for surviving the transition from high school to university, and more recently by sharing their advice on how to transition from university to work.

Opportunities continued to flow my way in second year and I was granted more and more responsibility and led teams for several events. Then, in my third year, I was offered the chance to join the WIE Development Program as a Student Ambassador. In this role I was responsible for coordinating and managing all our WIE outreach opportunities!

Now, as a fourth year, I’m more focused on my future career than ever before. I’m exploring the construction industry in my internship with Lendlease for the Northern Road Upgrade (Stage 3) Project. But I haven’t let go of my life in the student world. I’m currently Chairperson of the EngSoc and a WIE Student Ambassador and, of course, I’m still studying.

So, as you can see, my first small step towards engineering set in motion an epic marathon of steps that has brought me to an extraordinary place. The really cool thing is that this journey is only just beginning. There are so many more small steps I can take to fully explore all the opportunities out there in the future.


Click here to find out more about Women in Engineering Development Program.


Written by: Karen Kuan