Adelaidean - News from the University of Adelaide The University of Adelaide Australia
July 2010 Issue
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Schoolgirls take up challenge

The University of Adelaide and professional organisations are working to change the male domination of engineering and technology fields.

Like technology-based programs everywhere, the male students in the University of Adelaide's engineering, maths and computer science courses easily outnumber the females - but that's something many people are determined to shift.

The percentage of women studying engineering typically has been around 15-18%, with numbers lower in information and computer technology.

Dr Katrina Falkner, a Senior Lecturer in the School of Computer Science and Associate Dean (Learning and Teaching) within the Faculty of Engineering, Computer and Mathematical Sciences, said the industry recognised the importance of increasing female representation in its workforce.

Gender and skill diversity was valued in engineering and technology professions for the benefits it brought to both team and leadership positions.

"Industry and universities are putting a lot of effort into increasing the participation of women in engineering and technology-related fields," Dr Falkner said.

At the University of Adelaide, the Faculty of Engineering, Computer and Mathematical Sciences is working to support and encourage female students, with the aim of increasing enrolments.

One strategy is targeting high school girls from across the state to encourage their interest in engineering, maths and information technology. As an example, last month the Faculty held its Young Women in Technology Challenge.

A group of 140 Year 9 and 10 girls came from as far as Waikerie and Naracoorte to participate in a day of fun, hands-on activities designed to introduce the girls to a variety of technology-related study and career paths.

The girls heard inspirational talks from female role models - academic Dr Laura Brooks (School of Mechanical Engineering); industry representative Kylie Sproston (General Manager of pharmaceutical company BTG Australasia Pty Ltd); and Rona Sakko (CSIRO).

Then it was into the labs for some technology tasks, including building DC motors; designing and testing straw structures to see how they would stand up to an earthquake; fixing a broken arm using a computer program; producing some computer animation; building Lego robots; investigating the 'mud' used in drilling; and looking at cell disruption for pharmaceutical engineering purposes.

Among the student ambassadors helping during the day was Kate McKenzie, a third-year student doing a combined degree in Petroleum Engineering and Mechanical Engineering.

Kate decided to study engineering after attending a Technology Challenge at the University of Adelaide when she was in Year 12 at Victor Harbor High School.

"I'd never even considered studying engineering before I came to the Technology Challenge in my school holidays," said Kate.

She is loving the course and looking forward with confidence to bright career prospects.

The Faculty is also offering mentoring programs for final-year female students, in conjunction with the Women in Innovation and Technology Group.

Highly skilled and experienced professionals mentor female students and offer support through the final stages of their studies, helping the students to get their careers started.

Dr Falkner said: "Demand for engineering and technology graduates continues to grow and exceeds the number of graduates available.

"Engineers and technology professionals will be critical in developing solutions to current and future problems on a global scale. There are great opportunities for female students to enter these creative and exciting fields."

Story by Robyn Mills

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Taking up the technology challenge with student ambassador Kate McKenzie (centre) are Naracoorte High School students Nicole Baty (left) and Megan Johnson
Photo by Robyn Mills

Taking up the technology challenge with student ambassador Kate McKenzie (centre) are Naracoorte High School students Nicole Baty (left) and Megan Johnson
Photo by Robyn Mills

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