University of Queensland Scholarship Dinner for the Hawken Engineering Scholars, 2009
Travelling alone to a new country, with a different language, different people, and a culture I have never experienced before: might sound daunting, but trust me – it may be one of the best experiences you will ever have in your life.
Good Evening ...
Earlier this year, during the mid year break, I was fortunate enough to be a part of a wonderful three week experience known as the IIWE annual conference; held by the International Institute for Women Engineers. Held in Paris, France, a total of 44 women (and 1 man) from around the world came together to share what is now known as the IIWE experience.
Participants came from all over the world including the States, Mexico, Norway, Nigeria, China, Sri Lanka, Ghana, Israel and ranged in qualification from a mere second year undergraduate like myself to a professional engineer who was working with the UN in Rwanda.
It was one of the defining experiences of my life. And to be honest, I didn’t ever think it would actually happen.
A few months earlier, I was browsing through the Engineers Australia email newsletter and came across an advertisement for the ‘opportunity of a lifetime’ - a three week conference in Paris. Although excited, I doubted I would take the plunge; “Its not my opportunity I thought”, but the thought remained in the back of my mind. It wasn’t until I bumped into Professor Caroline Crostwaithe (the Associate Dean of the Faculty) that my fortune changed dramatically.
I mentioned the conference in passing, and instead of the dismissal I expected, the Professor encouraged me to apply and investigate sponsorship opportunities the University could supply. Suddenly, the trip was no longer only a pipe dream.
What you must realise is that this conversation happened a mere month before the conference was scheduled to start – and just before the end of semester exams. The next few weeks were a blur of applications, reverse engineering assignments, searching for flights, engineering drawings, approaching the University for funding, studying structures, organising my passport, conic section problems…and before I knew it, the time came for me to pack and head out. What did I expect? I don’t think I had any idea for what was in store.
I won’t bore you with details of my flight, getting lost in strange airport or losing my luggage for 4 weeks, although those aspects of the trip certainly made it interesting. I won’t even give you a blow by blow account of the trip, as enthralling as it was. All I will do is tell you what I learnt and why you should seriously consider similar experiences.
As a group, we had the opportunity to visit world class companies including L’Oreal, Coca Cola, Societe Generale, Thales, Areva, IBM and the UNESCO headquarters. We had lectures from world class professors about topics including Ethics in Engineering, the History of Engineering, Women in Engineering and Sustainability. As part of the program we also had to keep a reflective journal, mirroring the record a professional Engineer is required to keep, and in groups we participated in a group project, redesigning a development so that it operates sustainably. Both the structured and informal parts of the three weeks taught me a lot - how to deal with people without a common language for example: something we take for granted here in Australia, but you really do begin to appreciate knowing what people are talking about!
I don’t think I can accurately describe the effect that this trip had on me. When I returned to Australia, I was surprised that everything looked the same…but yet, it felt different somehow. A friend said to me, “Things haven’t changed here…you are the one who has changed.’ And it was true. I had met people from around the world and it had changed the way I view the world.
The biggest realisation was that…there is so much out there! In Australia we are fortunate in that we are so isolated, but that also means we are almost cut off from the rest of the world. No longer to do I think the only option for me when I graduate is to move up to the mines, no longer do I think that the way they teach Engineering at the University of Queensland is the be all and end all, no longer do I think the opportunities are there, but they are for someone else.
The opportunities are all there for us to take. UQ is amazingly supportive in this aspect and there are so many opportunities that can provide you with a strong foundation for what you want to achieve in the future. Don’t be afraid to try something new, no matter how daunting it may seem. Don’t think you are too old, too young, too busy, too shy, too lazy…I guarantee that it will be worth it. In the words of a multinational corporation, Just Do It.