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Engineering A Difference

4 July 2017 at 3:19 pm
Rachel McFadden
Female engineers are few and far between but this is something a trio of female civil engineers turned social entrepreneurs are hoping to change.

Rachel McFadden | 4 July 2017 at 3:19 pm


Engineering A Difference
4 July 2017 at 3:19 pm

Female engineers are few and far between but this is something a trio of female civil engineers turned social entrepreneurs are hoping to change.

There have been more than a few occasions where Felicity Furey felt she didn’t quite fit in.

As an undergrad engineering student she was one of 11 female students in a course of 120 and in her work as a civil engineer there were several occasions where she was the only female in a meeting.

But that wasn’t quite it.

There was something about her passion for her profession that made her feel at odds with the mainstream conception of who and what engineers did.

“I think engineering can be really creative, artistic and innovative and I really wanted to have these kinds of conversations about what engineering can be,” Furey says.

It was at a chance meeting at a bar where Furey met Jillian Kenny, a fellow civil engineer, that the duo realised they had a shared vision.

“It was like oh my gosh, I have found this person who understands how amazing engineering could really be and we both got really passionate about creating diversity in the profession,” Furey says.

In 2012, Furey and Kenny co-founded Power of Engineering, a not-for-profit organisation that inspires female Year 9 and 10 students, or students in regional Australia, about what’s possible from an engineering career.

“I have always been surprised that there were not that many females in the field because it is such a cool profession,” Furey says.

Furey and Kenny run one day workshops which include site tours and real world problems designed to show students what a career in engineering could be.

Since 2012, more than 60 Power of Engineering workshops have reached 5,500 students across Victoria.

Furey says after the workshops 78 per cent of students who said they had not considered a career in engineering now said they would.

It was from the success of conducting “real world” site tours and realising that students were disengaged from mathematics that the idea for Machinam began.

“In our travels we began to realise that 40 per cent of maths teachers aren’t trained in mathematics and we really want to have impact on that area,” Furey says.

Machinam, co-founded by Furey, Kenny and Claire Bennett, another female civil engineer, is a digital resource for high school maths classes.

Furey says the resource brings together problem-based learning, real life context and digital technology to provide an alternative to traditional high school maths textbooks that is engaging and relevant to students’ interest.

“Students are presented with a real-life scenario, for example, you are planning a world tour for your band and you need to work out what your set list will be. In this case they will use statistics to work out what the most popular songs are for your set list,” she says.

“We are trying to use scenarios that will be relevant to teenagers or to their future careers.”

Furey says the program has been particularly successful for students with behavioural problems.

Currently, 10 schools across Victoria and Queensland have purchased Machinam with more schools trialling it in term three.

Furey says the social enterprise aims to be sustainable by 2018 and once they make a profit they will reinvest in rolling the program out to lower socioeconomic schools and schools in regional areas who couldn’t otherwise afford it.

They are also inviting corporate partners to assist them in rolling out the program to regional and lower socioeconomic schools.

She says the amount of industry interest in the Power of Engineering workshops has been “phenomenal” – more industry supporters have signed on in 2017 than there were students to deliver the workshop to.

She hopes the same amount of interest will go towards Machinam and that every student will have the opportunity to access the program.

Furey says one of her greatest achievements to date was running into former students of the Power of Engineering workshops.

“I ran into three female students who are now studying engineering at university,” she says.

“They said to me that they decided on engineering after doing the workshop. That feels pretty special.”

Rachel McFadden  |  Journalist  |  @ProBonoNews

Rachel is a journalist specialising in the social sector.

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