“Engineering is a career for all” – this is just one of the important messages the UNSW Canberra Young Women in Engineering (YoWIE) program is committed to bringing to life.
It is also a message that the new leaders of the YoWIE program, UNSW Canberra’s Neda Aboutorab and Matt Barrett, will be using whenever they can to excite Australia's young women about a career in engineering.
The program, now in its seventh year, sees year 9 to 12 students from Canberra and surrounds descend onto the UNSW Canberra campus to engage in aeronautical, electrical, mechanical, civil, and space engineering activities, as well as activities related to computer science and aviation.
“YoWIE is all about broadening the horizons of young minds to what engineers are capable of and how we contribute to society and the development of the technologies that we all so heavily rely on,” Matt said.
“Ultimately, our aspiration for YoWIE is to create an environment where young women can see and explore the opportunities a career in engineering has to offer in a fun and interactive way,” he said.
Neda is an Associate Professor in Electrical Engineering and Deputy Head of School (Undergraduate Teaching) in the School of Engineering and Information Technology.
As a woman in electrical engineering and having led activities for YoWIE in the past, Neda strives to inspire the next generation of young female engineers.
“I have always been passionate about engaging and supporting young women’s interest in engineering and highlighting how maths, science, problem-solving, teamwork and communication skills learnt in school can translate into what engineers use daily,” Neda said.
By empowering through engineering, Neda hopes to be a catalyst for young women who may follow in her footsteps in pursuing a career in STEM.
“I want to break the misconceptions about engineering fields and help our YoWIE’s to gain the self-confidence that engineering can be the career for them.”
Neda’s advice for young women pursuing STEM: “Don’t let misconceptions stop you. Focus on developing a love for learning and problem-solving; and believe in yourself. And most importantly never underestimate hands-on learning activities.”
Matt is the Engineering Manager in the School of Engineering and Information Technology and has supported YoWIE since its inception.
“I love YoWIE because, at times, we take for granted that we live in a prosperous country full of choice, and despite that, women are underrepresented in so many important professions. YoWIE is a way I can give back to an industry that has given me so much,” Matt said.
“Unfortunately, engineering is often perceived as a men’s profession, and there is a misconception and a lack of understanding of the importance women play in the development of our technologies and infrastructure.”
In both his experience and in research, Matt highlights the importance diversity brings to teams and a just society.
“First and foremost, as a society, we want equal opportunity for all across all careers,” Matt said.
“The research (and this is also my experience) shows teams of unique thinkers from widely different backgrounds, experiences and values produce better ideas and solutions. Therefore, from my perspective, increasing diversity within engineering can only improve our technologies and, therefore, our society.”
Matt’s advice for young women pursuing STEM: “Ask lots of questions. Many people are willing and happy to give away their time and knowledge to help. You just need to ask. After all, we were all at the starting line at one time.”
YoWIE is designed to generate genuine interest, curiosity and excitement for young women as they think about their careers in engineering and more broadly in STEM.
“We need more women in engineering. The ratio must improve,” Neda said.
“In the last five to ten years, we have made significant progress in bringing diversity and inclusion to the forefront of STEM fields. However, there is still more to do,” Matt said.
It is vital to raise awareness and understanding of engineering disciplines among young women early in their educational journey.
“I do hope that participating in events such as YoWIE would break the misconceptions around STEM and engineering careers for our next generation and empower more female students to pursue careers in engineering,” Neda said.
After all, engineering is a career for all.