Migrant and mum forms next generation of Downer engineers

03 August 2022

A unique scholarship in the power and energy sector is paving the way for young women in engineering.

Since 2018' Downer's Facilities and Asset Services business has partnered with CQUniversity (CQU) to deliver the CQUniCares Downer Scholarship. The three or four-year program provides financial assistance and paid work experience to first or second-year female undergraduate engineering students.

Since its inception' 14 female students have benefitted from the program' with many going on to hold full-time employment at Downer.

And now' the next generation of female engineers is gearing up for the experience of a lifetime' with Downer awarding two new scholarships.

Lauren Fritz is a 24-year-old Audiovisual (AV) Technician' second year engineering student and soon-to-be first-time mum to a little girl. With an electrician husband and a talent for maths' it was a natural shift for her to look into electrical engineering at university.

Downer's scholarship is an important opportunity for her' providing a chance to get hands on experience.

"When I was looking through scholarships there weren't a lot of options that had more to them in terms of the site experience. One of the reasons I chose a trade was because I learn best with hands on work' so I thought it would be amazing to go and actually physically do the work about what I was learning'" Lauren said.

Working as an AV Technician by day' Lauren knows what it's like to be a woman in a male-dominated industry. But she's never let that stop her' and won't let it stop her daughter either.

Her advice to any woman looking into a Science' Technology' Engineering and Math (STEM) career is simple: "I would just tell her do whatever makes you happy. Coming out of school' I wanted to do project management or quantity surveying' and someone actually said to me' 'well you're a woman and no one is going to respect you in that trade'.

"I really just want my daughter' or any young woman' to know that as long as they're happy' it doesn't matter what other people have to say. If she enjoys it and she's good at it that's what she should do."

That's a sentiment backed by Downer's other scholarship recipient' 19-year-old Trizha Orbeta.

Coming to Australia as a migrant from the Philippines five years ago' she's had her fair share of obstacles to overcome' not least of which has been understanding the Australian accent and slang terms of Yeppoon where she lives with her family.

One of just three women in her class of 16 engineering students' her advice to young women is similar to Lauren's.

"Just go for it – there's really no barrier to doing what you want if it's something you're passionate about. it comes down to your skill and aptitude – not your gender'" Trizha said.

Trizha was in fact successful in applying for two scholarships through CQU' but chose to work with Downer for the hands-on experience a site placement would offer' and the breadth of Downer's capability across industry.

"I chose Downer because I thought it would be beneficial to me' the work placement particularly. It aligns well with what I'm going to do in the future' and Downer works across many industries so there are lots of opportunities'" she said.

With a steady pipeline of work in the oil' gas and power generation space over the next few years' Downer's need for engineers is only set to increase. And improving the gender balance in the office and on site is a key focus for the business – providing opportunities for talented women like Lauren and Trizha to cut their teeth and show their capability as young professionals.

One such engineer who is already making waves is Morgan Lewis. A recipient of the Downer CQUniCares scholarship in 2018' since graduating Morgan has worked across Queensland as a project engineer and is now lead engineer on an upstream oil and gas distribution project in the Surat Basin.

Not only that' but she will be heading up Downer's CQUniCares scholarship as a mentor for the new students joining Downer's ranks.

"That's what the scholarship is all about – getting the next generation coming through. Passing the baton down and keeping our pipeline of good engineers moving'" Morgan said.

"I'm grateful for the opportunity to work with Downer and gain real-life experience' which has led to an exciting career so far. I hope I can use my experience to support our new female engineers and set the next generation up for success."