Young Engineers


Young Engineers

Two inspiring old-girls have been sharing their passion for engineering with our young students by volunteering at STEMies, a program for girls in Year 4 to 6. Since its inaugural event in April 2016, STEMies has seen over 100 girls from St Aidan’s and its surrounding schools participate in workshops with activities as varied as building rockets and bridges, creating Rube Goldberg machines and programming. STEMies aims to influence the aspirations of its young participants, and in turn, their subject choices in their secondary and tertiary education, in the hope that this will lead to more women in STEM careers in the future. Ms Karen Madden interviewed Ella Wilson (2015) and Madison Burke (2014) at our recent STEMies event, to get an insight into what led to their promising careers and what drives their choice to give back to the St Aidan’s community as volunteers.

Ella Wilson (2015) is currently a third-year student at QUT, completing a dual degree Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) (Mechatronics) and Mathematics.

What is it about that degree that drew you to it?

I was originally planning on going into animation and arts, however I quickly learned that there was a slim chance of getting a job. So, I went with the next thing that I enjoyed, maths! In high school, I wasn't particularly the best, or good, but I had a lot of fun learning the content. I picked a degree that I knew would challenge me, but I would also enjoy, which just happened to be engineering and maths.

What do you like about what you are doing currently?

Engineering is a very involved degree, but very hands on, which is awesome because that how I learn best. There's also so much potential and possibility for me to do whatever I wish to do professionally, and I enjoy having the options.

What kind of job are you hoping to secure at the end of your degree?

Currently, I am working in statistical research, so I could continue into research, in either maths or engineering. I also could go into an engineering firm and work on big fancy projects of all different kinds, like working on machinery, or electronics, or robots, or drones, or computers, etc. The possibilities are endless!

What subjects did you take in senior at school?

Maths C, Maths B, English, Graphics, Ancient History, and Physics, however I dropped Physics in Year 12.

Did any teachers have an impact on you? In what way?

Ms Burvill-Shaw was a teacher that I had for the majority of my history classes. She was intelligent, and thoughtful, and allowed creative freedom in her classes. She was the main reason that I pushed a lot of boundaries as a student, because she encouraged me to be myself.

Ms Hosking also impacted me in my choice to follow maths as a career. She and I both knew I wasn't the best in class; however, she was able to show me that maths can be enjoyable! Maybe that just makes us both big nerds.

Were there particular experiences or characteristics about St Aidan’s that helped you to succeed now?

When I was student, I was encouraged to be myself by my peers and the teachers around me. So, I cut my hair really short and aimed to do the best that I could do while studying. If I ever struggled, I had a fantastic network of teachers and friends to help me, and I always knew that the grades I got I worked hard for and I was proud of that. Because I was allowed to be myself, there was no stress about if others would accept me, and I was encouraged to work hard and do my best, which was exactly what I did.

What would you like to see in St Aidan’s future?

I personally think St Aidan's is on the right path. With a new workshop with soldering stations, and a focus on coding and robotics being introduced, the school is already headed towards technology-oriented education. I think that is definitely the right way to go!

Why do you volunteer at STEMies?

I genuinely enjoy hanging out and helping the girls with the activities. I find the activities really fun too! Overall, I have a really fun time, and the girls who come to STEMies have a really fun time, so it feels less like volunteering and more like participating.

What advice would you give to a St Aidan’s student who is considering pursuing a career in engineering?

To do well in engineering, you have to put in the amount of effort and work that you want to be reflected in your grades. You can't expect to put in little effort and see big results. So, if you want to go into a career in engineering, prepare to work hard, and take every opportunity that you can to get you ahead in the game!

What kind of support could an engineer who may be reading this article give to you to help you achieve your goals?

Insight into an engineering career, and how everything works, would be great. A potential work experience opportunity wouldn't be bad either!

What things other than engineering are your passions or interests?

I really like doing art, mainly painting and drawing, as well as planning video games. I find both of these activities really help reduce my stress levels.

Any personal achievements to note after graduating from St Aidan’s?

I am currently co-authoring a paper with some undergraduate colleagues of mine, under the supervision of the ACEMs branch at QUT, that we hope to be published before the end of the year. It is on the topic of using virtual reality to help the ecological conservation of koala's! I am very lucky to have the opportunity, and the job, to work with amazingly smart people and write this paper, and hopefully more papers to come.

Madison Burke (2014) is currently studying Bachelor of Engineering (Honours)/Commerce majoring in Chemical Engineering and Business Information Systems at UQ.

What is it about your degree that appealed to you?

Everyone always said that I was good at maths and science so I should do engineering, and while I admit that's true, I chose engineering because I liked to problem solve. The feeling of solving problems is something that has always given me great satisfaction. I only decided to add a commerce degree after school in order to have an additional skill set. I then picked my major of Chemical Engineering.

What kind of job are you hoping to secure at the end of your degree?

I'm hoping to secure a job in the energy sector but that's as picky as I'm going to be - I'll take what I can get! Energy is a booming industry with the drive currently towards renewable energy, oil is still needed to power current equipment while natural gas is being used as a gateway fuel to the renewable sources. I believe that there are a vast range of opportunities that can arise within the energy sector with even more appearing as we move forward.

What subjects did you take in senior at school?

Chemistry, English, Graphics, Maths B, Maths C and Physics

Did any particular teachers have an impact on you at St Aidan's?

It's very hard to single out any of the teachers I had. Everyone was very approachable and willing to help as well as wanting me to achieve the best results I could get. They all knew when I was trying to take an easy way out and pushed me to the next level which I think has helped me develop a lot over the past couple of years.

Why do you volunteer at STEMies?

At the STEMies event in July, before I was introduced, the girls were asked to draw what they thought an engineer looked like. Most of them drew males, and the females that were drawn were all wielding hammers. Once I introduced myself to the girls, the first question I was asked was, "Are you really an engineer?". This is the reason I love volunteering at STEMies events; to help break down the stereotypes in engineering and encourage girls that they can achieve anything.

What advice would you give to a St Aidan’s student who is considering pursuing a career in engineering?

Just do it. First year is a very broad year where you can experience many of the difference types and even if at the end nothing has appealed to you, it’s only been one year. Once you get into uni, you realise that one year isn't that long and you want to relish all the time at uni you can get.

What kind of support could an engineer who may be reading this article give to you to help you achieve your goals?

I would really like to hear from a mid-career engineer who has taken a break to have children and gone back to work. At uni we hear plenty from graduate engineers or senior engineers but the whole middle area isn't very well spoken about and something that I'm quite interested to hear about.