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Chloe and Pia engineer opportunities to 'Dream Big'

Published:18 January 2018

Pia Vella (left) and Chloe White from Holy Spirit College in Mackay enjoyed attending the 2017 Dream Big Event in Mackay, followed by work experience at the Mackay office of Aurecon, a global engineering and infrastructure advisory company. MIDDLE IMAGE: They are pictured with Stephen Cutting, Aurecon's Digital Practice Leader, Northern Australia.

There is a saying at the popular Dream Big Events hosted by CQUni campuses: ‘doctors save lives every day, however, engineers prevent the need for lives to be saved‘.

For schoolgirls Pia Vella and Chloe White, this saying had a big impact on how they perceived the influence of engineering in the world.

The Students from Holy Spirit College in Mackay heard the saying when they attended the 2017 Dream Big Event in Mackay to explore career opportunities across the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

The Dream Big Project is an initiative encouraging greater participation of women in STEM, and particularly in engineering.

The annual Dream Big events are held throughout Queensland to ensure women STEM professionals are more visible to female school students throughout Queensland.

Before attending, the Holy Spirit students said they “never knew explicitly what engineering was” and that they didn’t come with any preconceptions.

Pia expressed that she wasn’t aware of career opportunities other than civil engineering until the event allowed her to learn about the different types of engineering, such as civil, mechanical, electrical, mechatronics, environmental and many more.

Dream Big Project founder and CQUni graduate Jessica Kahl cites a 2017 article by Catalyst, noting women accounted for less than one in eight (12.4%) of engineers in Australia’s labour force in 2016. As of August last year, women made up less than a quarter (20.7%) of those employed in computer system design and related services.

"Exploring the importance of female role models is an important component of the Dream Big Event as the relationships created help foster interest of young women and girls in STEM, and smash the stereotypical portrait of engineers, scientists and technical professionals," Jessica says.

Recent Dream Big participant Chloe says "we idolise women who expand on their passion and that is exactly what the women involved in Dream Big do”.

Dream Big connected female school students with female engineers from local industry organisations such as BHP, Aurecon, AECOM and Mackay Regional Council through technical activities.

The Mackay students participated in structure building challenges, LED light soldering and a ‘Future City Build’ activity which featured local Mayor Greg Williamson.

The Future City Build activity allowed students to connect with decision makers, learn about the importance of sustainable design in master planning and pitch an engineered prototype to the mayor.

Pia explained that she had never had hands-on experience of this nature at school.

"Girls are pushed to play with Barbies growing up, not electronics,” Pia says.

Chloe said she really enjoyed thinking about what the future of Mackay looked like and how her generation could make it better.

"The mayor promoted and inspired us to be female engineers. He took on our ideas and made it feel like a big contribution to the region," she says.

Australia’s lack of role models in STEM is identified as a key factor which influences girl’s decisions to pursue further study. This is compounded by a lack of practical experience with STEM subjects at school. The need for more female STEM role models resonates in similar reports and programs throughout Asia, the UK, Africa and the United States.

At the conclusion of Mackay's Dream Big event, Pia and Chloe were offered work experience positions at the Aurecon Mackay Office.

“It just clicked that this is what I want to do,” Chloe says.

"We spent one day in each discipline unit learning about civil, environmental, electrical and mechanical projects.

“We gained insight into software and projects being delivered in the region, including road plans close to my home, which made me proud to drive past, knowing I was involved in the design before implementation."

Pia said that she was drawn towards civil engineering and environmental science because the role models within these areas were “relatable, dedicated and willing to help".

Dream Big's Jessica Kahl says “it is stories like those from Chloe and Pia where we know our efforts have made an impact and influenced their perception of what they can achieve".

"These students are an inspiration and the reason why we are so passionate about encouraging participation of women in STEM.”

Reflecting on their involvement in the Dream Big Event and their work experience at Aurecon, the Holy Spirit College students want to encourage girls thinking about attending to just “give it a go and you will learn".

"You will meet like-minded people from other schools and you definitely won’t be alone. You will be inspired to pursue a STEM career. The events make you realise that you are the future," they say.

The Dream Big Project is currently gearing up for 2018 and event dates and schedules will be released during February.

Jessica says “we are looking to grow and influence more students throughout Queensland and this is clearly the case with events planned for a range of campuses".

In addition to providing female students in Queensland with an inspirational event, they will also have the opportunity to undertake their first CQUniversity Start Uni Now (SUN) unit at zero cost, which complements the students' experience.

“Our relationship with CQUniversity allows us to not just entice and engage students in STEM, but also allow them to get a headstart in pursuing their passion by encouraging enrolment in university subjects during their final schooling years," Jessica says.

"Not only does the SUN program provide invaluable insight, students are also a ‘step ahead’, which is instrumental when transitioning into undergraduate study. Of those students who completed a SUN unit and moved into their Bachelor degree in 2017, 95% passed!".