Young Women in STEM

Young Women in STEM (YWIS) is a platform for young women to come together and discover study, research, and career pathways available in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics sectors.

Our mission is to close the gender gap in science and technology, and inspire future generations of female innovators and sustainable technology leaders.

The world of engineering offers a vast array of exciting career opportunities, and in the coming months, we will feature leading industry experts to share their insights into some of the most dynamic, cutting-edge, and fascinating jobs that exist in the work place today.


Women of Inspiration – Change Makers

Throughout their careers, these incredible women have not only broken barriers and stereotypes, but they have also paved the way for future generations of female engineers.

Read their stories to discover some of the exciting opportunities that are available in the field of engineering.

Dr. Eva Hakansson

World record holder for the fastest electric motorcycle

Eva Hakansson has got something in common with all EVolocity students – she builds electric vehicles, and then competes in them! She also holds the world record for fastest electric motorcycle, and was once the fastest female motorcycle rider.

Eva’s story starts in Nynäshamn, Sweden, where her passion for engineering was sparked by her family’s deep involvement in motorsports. Her father, the 50cc Swedish road racing champion in 1962, built motorcycles from scratch in his spare time, with Eva’s mother serving as his mechanic.

At age 16, Eva helped her father put together her first motorbike. By 18, she replaced the gearbox of her first car.

Throughout high school, she won several first-places in national science competitions with clean tech projects.

However, when it came to her university studies, Eva decided to broaden her mind, and study business, as well as environmental science. Ten years later, she moved to the US and earned a PhD in engineering.

Learning about the intricate relations between technology, economics, and the environment fuelled my passion for electric vehicles.

Eva

The idea to build a record-fast electric vehicle came from the drag racing experiences of her husband Bill’s electric motorbike, which was fast … but not fast enough to make waves in the public mind.

I wanted the answer to the question ‘how fast is it?’ to be at least 300mph (484km/h). To achieve that speed, it had to be a steamliner motorcycle

Eva

Fast forward 14 years, and Eva has set records as the fastest female motorcycle rider, and fastest electric motorcycle with a speed of 434km/h.

She’s also worked as a lecturer at the University of Auckland (where she was actively involved with EVolocity), and is now developing KiwiFil – a 3D printing filament manufacturing business.

She’s required a strong sense of tenacity throughout her journey – and Eva considers this to be her greatest asset.

To be the best in anything, you have to work on it every day. You need to want it so badly that you never give up.

Eva

Eva’s also clear that project management is an important skill. As the quote goes, ‘to finish first, one must first finish’. A race is a firm deadline, and it takes serious management skills and discipline to get everything done in time. “My favourite saying is ‘whatever I do today, I don’t have to do tomorrow’. That’s how I get so much done”, says Eva.

For Eva, her electric vehicles are “ecoactivism in disguise”. Her mission, she says, is to show that being eco-friendly can be fast and fun, while also raising awareness about the potential of low-emissions vehicles.

“An electric vehicle is like chocolate without calories. It gives me everything I want – power, speed, and torque, without the things I don’t want – pollution and noise”.

Engineering is a great career choice, particularly for women. Engineers hold the key to a better future. The only really important thing to remember going into engineering – you need to be strong in maths! You don’t have to like maths, you just have to be good at it!

Eva

Photo 1 – Kevin Smith


Dr Deborah Munro

Senior Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering, University of Canterbury

Deborah’s interested in engineering was sparked after seeing a presentation by NASA when she was in high school.

This inspired her to study mechanical engineering, and then work for NASA designing life science support equipment.

After obtaining her Masters in robotics, Deborah soon went on to design robots for the Jurassic Park Ride at Universal Studios Hollywood, before eventually getting into orthopaedic implant design.

“I enjoy the thoroughness and rigor that goes into designing a medical device that will reside in the human body for ten to twenty years. This has been the highlight of my career”, says Deborah.

She’s currently in the process of commercialising her wireless implantable sensor system for monitoring the progress of spinal fusion. If successful, this technology could help millions of people get back to regular life in half the time that’s required at the moment.

If you like to create, solve problems, and help people, then engineering is for you.

Deborah

As a Senior Lecturer at the University of Canterbury, Deborah has seven postgraduate students working on various biomedical research areas. “Teaching, mentoring, and helping students achieve their goals is what I love most about my work. It’s very rewarding to help people on a daily basis and share my knowledge with them”, she says.

When asked what she’d like engineering student’s to know, she’s quick to say that it’s not a ‘man’s field’. “Over 20% of our mechanical engineering students are female, and in sub-disciplines such as biomedical engineering, females make up half the population. Also, engineering is not ‘dirty’. There’s no grease or grime involved unless you seek out such opportunities. I’ve only ever worked in front of a computer or in a high-tech lab”.

My advice to young people is if you like to create, solve problems, and help people, then engineering is for you. It’s a well-paying job in an industry that is quite recession-proof, and there are excellent career advancement opportunities. If you’re considering medicine because you like medical devices, biomedical engineering is a different way to be involved.

Deborah

Judith Makinson

Transport Engineering Manager, CKL

While at school, Judith loved both science and maths. But, she didn’t want to follow any of them as a pure subject – so engineering seemed like a great way to combine her favourite subjects in a career!

Today, she loves the challenge of figuring out an appropriate solution to a problem. “Combining maths and science with an understanding of human nature helps us design things that will actually be used as intended to fulfill a need”, Judith says.

She started out as a graduate Transportation Engineer for Arup in London and is now the Transportation Engineering Manager for CKL in Hamilton – having joined them to spearhead a new transportation engineering offering.

Along the way, Judith has had many highlights – one of which was leading a project developing a linear park, walkway, and cycleway along an industrialised river.

“This was a great learning opportunity that involved many disciplines: ground contamination, flooding, ecology, archaeology and heritage, bridge design, architecture and even how to locate WWII bombs! I loved that we were creating a vision for the future – reconnecting people with an awesome river that had been ignored and degraded for decades”, Judith says.

A more recent highlight has been working with Kimihia Lakes Community Trust on the rehabilitation on Huntly East Mine to create a new regional park facility that will promote water-based outdoor education for schools, with camping and lodge accommodation on site.

The biggest misconception I would like to bust is that STEM careers are ‘men’s work’. If you have a passion for STEM, it is anybody’s job and the more diversity we have in the industry, the stronger it will be. My advice to students is to go for it! There is a massive range of opportunity in STEM careers – you can follow so many different pathways! There really is something for everybody and it never gets boring!

Judith

Rebecca ‘George’ Magdalinos

Squadron Leader, Royal New Zealand Air Force

By trade, Rebecca is an Engineering Officer in the RNZAF. Although she’s primarily been involved in aviation engineering, the role is very diverse.

“One of the things I love about the Defence Force is the diversity of opportunity on offer. I currently work in Defence Health as the Military Lead of Operation STAND (which is a programme around the reduction of harm from substance misuse)”, Rebecca says.

Rebecca got into this career because she always wanted to be a pilot in the Air Force. Although that didn’t work out, she still joined the RNZAF as an Aircraft Technician. From there, she was fortunate to have my study sponsored by the RNZAF and embarked on an engineering career.

“I’ve always enjoyed maths and problem solving, so engineering was a great fit”, she says.

One of her career highlights has been creating School to Skies programme. “I really loved innovating and collaborating to bring the science of aviation alive and provide experiential learning opportunities for young people. I love the opportunity to share our Air Force and showcase the myriad of talented role models within”, she says.

Another highlight was being deployed to Egypt in 2010/2011. Although not in an Engineering role, had the opportunity to serve in a multi-force capacity and work alongside some brilliant people from other nations.

My advice to young people considering a STEM career is to aim to become the role model you might’ve needed when you were starting out and bring everyone on the journey with you! I’d like students to know that you don’t have to be a ‘certain type of person’ to thrive in an engineering environment.

Rebecca

Looking for more inspiration?

Read more stories from Young Women in STEM …