Encouraging more young women to consider a career in STEM-based areas starts at an early age, and UNSW Canberra has been actively inspiring young women with the Young Women in Engineering program for eight years.

Cat Macdermott has taken part in the Young Women in Engineering (YoWIE) program since 2017 and has now come full circle with UNSW Canberra, as she is in her final year of studying a Bachelor of Electrical Engineering (Honours).

“YoWIE helped me understand what type of engineering I wanted to do. I was heading into Year 9 when I first participated in YoWIE and taking part in the different activities helped me decide that electrical engineering was the path I wanted to take,” Cat said.

“This also helped me pick subjects like electronics and mechatronics in my last two years of school before university.”

YoWIE is a free three-day program held during school holidays at UNSW Canberra to help young women in Years 9 to 12 consider a future in engineering. It involves a range of hands-on activities in areas of engineering including aeronautical, civil, electrical, mechanical, space, software engineering and aviation.

It is also an opportunity for young women to meet other like-minded young women and inspirational female guest speakers, university students and engineering staff.

Cat has been involved with YoWIE multiple times over the years as she wants to give back to a program that she found rewarding and hopes that more women join her in engineering.

“I came back to do work experience at the end of Year 9 with the original founder of YoWIE who taught me a different programming language,” she said.

“Then I helped re-design the program’s lawn mower activity with another former YoWIE participant, and I have been a Super-YoWIE a couple of times.”

A Super-YoWIE is someone that has already taken part in the program and comes back as a mentor to help the participants in the engineering activities they undertake over the three days.

“In 2017 there were around 12 of us, now there are roughly 100 young women taking part in YoWIE each year. It is great to see,” Cat said.

“It is still a struggle to get more women into engineering. In my classes at uni there are only about three females in my STEM classes, and I was the only female in my mechatronics class in Year 11.

“I find my degree challenging but I like a challenge to keep me occupied. The community we have built over the years is also great, everyone is trying to help you pass.

“I struggled at the start, but people have helped me along the way, so now I return that favour to others wherever I can.”

Acting head of the UNSW Canberra School of Engineering and Technology, Associate Professor Neda Aboutorab, is co-chair of the program and said the program helps start an educational journey within our communities to dismiss stereotypes that maths, physics, and engineering are for boys.

“Our goal is to support high school girls to build their confidence and show them that they can do it and should consider engineering as a career for them, if it is something they are interested in,” Dr Aboutorab said.

“I think one of the problems is the lack of diverse role models in engineering for our young girls.​

“We are trying to change this picture for our YoWIEs and introduce them to many diverse role models, we have many of our young female colleagues who are engineers leading and supporting our activities.”

Cat said programs like YoWIE are important for young females to get exposure to what engineering is all about.

“I still think young females unintentionally pick art-based subjects, and people don’t see engineering as being fun. Getting the exposure to different types of engineering and seeing if you like it at a young age is key to getting more females in STEM based areas,” Cat said.

YoWIE is held on Tuesday 16 April to Thursday 18 April 2024, at UNSW Canberra on Northcott Drive.   

More information on the YoWIE program can be found here.