Whilst looking at ways to increase female participation rates in Engineering, Samantha Dungey’s research showed her that overall there is a downturn in school leavers seeking technical education and careers. As a result, she decided to be part of the solution and has now written a children’s book “I want to be an Engineer”, in an effort to inspire children to want to become engineers and increase the visibility of engineering as a profession.
By Samantha Dungey
The decision to write and publish a children’s book was not planned; it came about from a simple conversation about four years ago. I was discussing, with a colleague, the merits of quotas to increase the number of females in engineering. I know many people have differing views on this topic, but the thing that frustrated me was the lack of change in university graduation percentages. We as an industry cannot hire beyond our pool of candidates, which means we as an industry are not increasing female participation in engineering as a whole, even if some companies are.
The adage, if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem came to mind. How can I change this? If approximately 10% of those in civil engineering degrees are female, and this number is less in other types of engineering, how do companies expect to achieve 50% quotas without short changing females in another company, thus not solving the problem at hand?
Throughout my time studying and working in Engineering, it has been very clear that there is a disparity in the number of men and women in engineering, and I have always been interested in addressing this. Through my involvement in a number of volunteer organisations, events and mentoring, I have noticed efforts to attract individuals to the profession are mostly focused on late secondary school or university students. When I spoke to these secondary school students, they had mostly already chosen their pathways, and so our abilities to influence their career paths were already limited; even more so for the university students. I wanted to target children before they had made their minds up. I began thinking, why can’t we talk to them earlier? What if they knew what engineering could offer them, would more choose the career path? Would they study different subjects?
I want to be an Engineer celebrates some of the everyday engineering marvels and how they change our world. Illustrations by Hilary Bruce
A 2014 study into the enrolment numbers of various subjects found that over the 20 years from 1992 to 2012, participation rates for most Science and Mathematics subjects, as a proportion of the total Year 12 cohort fell by 5-11%1. Based on a decline of 5%, this equates to approximately 11,000 less students studying science, mathematics and physics each. This really concerned me as our need for STEM qualified individuals will only increase going forward as our world increases in digitalisation. I began to realise that not only do we have a challenge facing us to entice young women into engineering, but everyone in general.
Another publication out of the UK studied young children’s perceptions of careers at varying ages. It demonstrated that children’s aspirations are shaped from a young age, as young as 7, including bias they may have around gender appropriate roles2. If we can address these biases early and teach them about more potentially ‘invisible’ careers, maybe we can influence them to follow in a STEM based career path?
I hope that this children’s book, “I want to be an Engineer“, can inspire children to become engineers and increase the visibility of engineers as a profession. Engineering is one of those careers that, if it’s done right, is often unseen. I would like children to aspire to be engineers the same way they might want to grow up to be a train driver, fireman or teacher.
About the author:
Originally from Gippsland in rural Victoria, Samantha Dungey is now living in Melbourne, Australia, working as a Civil Engineer. She has a passion for large infrastructure projects, environmental sustainability and encouraging younger generations into engineering and STEM careers.
Driven by the exciting work engineers do, Samantha set out to create a book that might inspire children to want to grow up to be engineers in the same way many aspire to be firefighters, doctors and train drivers.
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