UNSW Women in Engineering team

Amie O’Dell had never heard of engineering when she was in high school at Grafton in northern NSW.  She liked maths, science and tinkering with cars, but thought that she might end up a teacher – that’s if she went to university at all.

“My career adviser suggested that I consider studying engineering and after attending the annual UNSW Women in Engineering Summer Camp, I was sold,” Amie said.

“Women in Engineering does a lot of fantastic outreach activity with school students. I am now actively involved in the program because I want to help other girls realise that engineering is really cool and offers a huge range of varied career options.  I am about to finish my third year of mechanical engineering and I am loving it.”

Amie was one of 30 female students that UNSW Women in Engineering took to the Invictus Games in October to run hands-on, biomedical-themed workshops for over 800 secondary school kids.  Participants learnt how to design, build and test bionic hands and prosthetic legs.  Showing the children how to make these products for injured or disabled individuals exposed them to the life-changing impacts they could have on wounded servicemen and women as a biomedical engineer.  It also opened their minds to new career possibilities in other fields of engineering.

UNSW Women in Engineering Manager Sarah Coull said: “Encouraging young girls into STEM is so important, because it feeds service professions that need to have the make-up of the people they serve.  Engineers design and build things for both men and women, yet female engineers represent only around 13% of the engineering workforce in Australia, a statistic we hope to change through initiatives to encourage schoolgirls into the field.”

Part of the Invictus Games Education Project, which gave schools the opportunity to spend a day at the Games to watch events and partake in educational activities, UNSW Women in Engineering sent its current students as role models to inspire girls (and boys) to study engineering.

The program has been running since 2014, with the goal to increase female enrolment in engineering at UNSW to 30% by 2020.

“To date the program has reached over 10,000 school girls who have been involved in engineering summer camps, school workshops and events on campus. As a result, the number of women starting engineering degrees has increased by 78% since 2013 and first-year female enrolments for 2018 were at an all-time high, with 26% of the cohort being female. This is very encouraging,” Coull said.

Amie O’Dell will continue working with the Women in Engineering program next year.

“A lot of girls don’t consider engineering because they think it’s just for boys.  Then they come to one of our events and realise how fun it is.  I find this really satisfying.”