In 2017, a philanthropic foundation anonymously committed $200,000 over four years to support UNSW’s award-winning and internationally-recognised Women in Engineering (WIE) program, and specifically the WIE Camp.

The Women in Engineering (WIE) Camp is now a well-known annual fixture in UNSW Engineering’s calendar. It is a time when, over the course of five days in January, 100 female students in years 11 and 12 converge on campus to explore everything engineering, through hands-on workshops, site visits and a five-day team-based design project. Women in Engineering Campers

It’s also an opportunity to pick the brains of current female engineering students, academics and professionals working in industry. The purpose of the camp, which is now in its sixth year, is to convince top-performing female students to choose engineering at UNSW, and to help them narrow down their area of interest.    

Sarah Coull, UNSW’s Women in Engineering Manager, says the anonymous donation has already made a significant impact, particularly in helping regional and rural students attend the camp. “It has directly helped over 30 girls attend the camp through travel grants and reimbursements and by paying their $200 registration fee,” she says.

Coull explains that, without this support, many rural and regional students would not be able to attend. “We are so appreciative of this additional funding. Not only is it hugely rewarding to be able to offer this extra assistance, but I think these students enrich the experience for everyone because they offer diverse perspectives that are very valuable.”

In addition to the travel grants, reimbursements and helping students with registration fees, the money is earmarked to fund accommodation costs for the girls to live on campus in one of UNSW’s residential colleges for the duration of the camp. “This is a great model because, with their travel and accommodation taken care of, the girls are free to immerse themselves in the camp and fully concentrate on the activities and opportunities provided,” Coull continues.

“UNSW Engineering has above-average first-year female enrolments at 26% (the national average is closer to 17%), but we are actively recruiting women and have set a goal of boosting female enrolments to 30% by 2020,” says Coull.

The camp was truly amazing. I feel that I have come back a different person. It has been an experience that will stick with me for the rest of my life and I will never forget the impact it has had on me.”

Marianna Saill-Dilnot, Women in Engineering Camper 2018

The far-reaching aim of the WIE Camp is the hope that more women will become engineers in Australia and address the major gender imbalance in the industry. Traditionally, women have been under-represented in engineering. However, in recent years, more and more companies and universities are recognising the importance of a balanced approach and the value of diversity.

“This camp is one of the ways we are working towards achieving that target and I think it’s incredibly impactful in helping shape the girls’ futures, open up possibilities and consolidate what a career in STEM might look like for them.”

One of the main activities during the camp is a humanitarian-themed week-long design project which aims to give participants a taste of how engineers apply their discipline knowledge to solve real-life problems every day.

There is an interesting fact that although women are underrepresented in engineering overall, they are overrepresented in humanitarian engineering jobs and research. “Women seem to be attracted to the idea of problem solving for people in their everyday lives,” continues Coull.

“They are often drawn towards collaborative projects that involve creativity and have a positive human impact, so giving a humanitarian theme to the design project draws them in in a way that they might not have pictured engineering before. It shows it is not all hard hats and building sites.”

Coull says another benefit of the camp is the validation that participants feel from meeting so many like-minded souls. “A striking part of the camp is that it leaves girls feeling more secure in themselves and their choices. Some of them come from small schools, and it might be that they are the only girl in the class who is interested in engineering,” Coull continues.

“When they get here and see 100 girls just like them all in the same room their eyes open wide as they realise, ‘It’s not just me!’ Seeing that is definitely one of the most special things about the camp.”


What the campers say:
“The camp was truly amazing. I feel that I have come back a different person. It has been an experience that will stick with me for the rest of my life and I will never forget the impact it has had on me nor the amazing people I have been so privileged to meet.” – Marianna Saill-Dilnot

“Melissa [my houseparent] enhanced this experience so much and made it invaluable. She was an amazing substitute mum and really cared for our wellbeing and future. She was just an incredible inspiration and role model.” – Emily Yuan

“I really appreciate the amazing opportunity especially coming from a regional area where these sorts of experiences are not as frequent. It was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had and I will definitely be recommending it to girls that would be eligible next year.” – Emily Mills

“It has been such an amazing experience, and so insightful. Thank you so much! You have done an exemplary job organising it.” – Julia Nowak

WIE camp 2018 fast facts
•    163 applications received (50 more than in 2017)
•    100 girls in year 11 or 12 attended
•    1/3 attendees were rural, regional, interstate or international
•    18 current UNSW female engineering students were camp leaders
•    7 engineering or design thinking workshops
•    4 industry site visits
•    80 industry professionals joined the girls in a networking skills session
•    5-day humanitarian engineering design challenge

Written by: Penny Jones