YoWIEs descend on UNSW Canberra


Just 25 per cent of Australia’s engineers are women, but if UNSW Canberra’s Young Women in Engineering (YoWIE) Summer School is any indication, the future looks bright for girls with a passion for STEM subjects.

It is the second year the university has held the summer school for year 9 and 10 girls and YoWIE co-chair, Associate Professor Kathryn Kasmarik, says the 40-student class has doubled since last year.

“Last year’s event was really well received,” Dr Kasmarik says.

“They really enjoyed the activities and it got them enthusiastic about engineering.”

This year’s schedule was focused on practical workshops, including pulling apart and reassembling a lawnmower, making slime, as well as robotics and electronic activities.

The YoWIEs were also inspired by female engineers who stopped by to share their experiences.

Civil engineer Sophie Thompson is working on Canberra’s light rail and says an engineering career provides tremendous satisfaction as the finished product can last a lifetime.

“You never get bored because you’re always wondering about how things work,” Ms Thompson said.

While most of the students are still weighing up their career options, Dr Kasmarik says most of the students have a strong interest in engineering.

“We need to get them young because in the next year or so they will make the decision to take maths or physics [in year 11 and 12],” Dr Kasmarik says.

“If they don’t, we kind of lose them.”

Dr Kasmarik says progress is being made, but there is still plenty of work to be done to encourage women to get involved in engineering.

One of the hurdles has been the social perception of engineering as a career for women.

“Women like a social group and they like social support,” Dr Kasmarik says.

“When they look at the literature and the pictures, they see men. [YoWIE] provides a social setting and shows them that this is something they can do. The social side is important to give them the engineering experience.”

Diversity is important in the field of engineering, Dr Kasmarik says, as a range of perspectives contribute to its success. For example, a recent study found that women were more likely to value sustainable solutions.

“It’s also important that we’re drawing from the whole, rather than 50 per cent, of the population.”

Emily Ilowski, 16, is an aspiring aeronautical engineer and she says the YoWIE Summer School helped her find her focus.

“It’s a really helpful program for trying to figure out your interests,” Ms Ilowski says.

“It makes a lot of types of engineering seem fun, but I liked some activities more than others so it helps you specify things and think of what you would find more fulfilling in later life through these exercises we’ve been doing.”

The summer school has wrapped up for 2018, but 2019 registrations will open soon. To apply, you need to be nominated by your school’s maths or science coordinator.

To find out more about engineering events at UNSW Canberra, girls can register here.