News

Engineering gender balance: female graduate numbers increasing


21 May 2012

(L-R) Sisters Isobel, Merrilyn and Rebecca James are part of the growing number of female engineering students.
(L-R) Sisters Isobel, Merrilyn and Rebecca James are part of the growing number of female engineering students.

Mid-year figures reveal female graduates at the University of Sydney's Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies are reaching record numbers.

According to Dr Tim Wilkinson, Associate Dean (Education), the faculty has experienced a steady increase in the number of female students enrolling and graduating from its many disciplines.

"While engineering and IT student numbers have increased across the board, 10 years ago the University had as few as 50 female engineering graduates. Last year we doubled that figure," says Dr Wilkinson.

"This year, the faculty is anticipating well over 100 female graduates."

Among those graduates is Merrilyn James. Flanked by her two sisters, Isobel and Rebecca, who are also engineering students at the University, Merrilyn will receive her degree in power engineering.

As part of her coursework Merrilyn investigated the effect of space weather on our power system, particularly power transformers, and whether geomagnetically induced currents cause saturation and even failure of our power transformers.

"An outage due to space weather could be widespread and expensive to repair supply to all customers," says Merrilyn who now works as a graduate engineer at Ausgrid. She hopes in the future to develop these models further.

While female graduates are reaching 20 percent of the engineering graduates, only 10.5 percent of practicing engineers are women, despite continuing efforts of academic institution and employer interventions to address the gender gap.

Professor Archie Johnston, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies, says the faculty encourages all female high school students to consider the exciting range of engineering and IT careers that are on offer. The faculty runs a number of interesting and informative outreach programs including the Girls' Programming Network - one-day workshops run by girls, for girls. Participants develop their own games, learn about digital media, and create smart phone applications.

He says while the numbers are increasing and are encouraging there is no time to be complacent.

"Engineers support the growth of all our communities. They are creative thinkers who rely on their understanding of mathematics and science as well as their knowledge of business and legal processes to meet the expectations of these communities," says Dr Johnston.

"We still need to focus on increasing the number of school students taking higher levels of mathematics and sciences to underpin growth in all of the engineering qualifications. And every effort must be continued further lift the rates of women enrolling in engineering and IT undergraduate programs at Australian universities."


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Media enquiries: Victoria Hollick, 02 9351 2579, 0401 711 361, victoria.hollick@sydney.edu.au