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Ingenuity from Inclusivity: Women in Engineering

What can women do for engineering and what can engineering do for the world? We ask some of our high profile women engineers.

Dr Georgia Kremmyda

Dr Georgia Kremmyda is a Principal Teaching Fellow leading on Civil and Environmental Engineering courses in the Department of Engineering at the University of Warwick. Dr Kremmyda worked in industry in design and structural engineering roles before moving to academia.

Engineering has the potential to help tackle a number of global humanitarian crises.georgia_kremmyda.jpg

The world is dealing with some massive issues currently - inequality, pollution and the global refugee crisis to name a few.There are also some big themes we need to be tackling now, like where is our energy going to come from in the future? How do we cope with the exponential growth of population in cities and how to we set about preserving culture and tackling social injustice?

“We as engineers need to change what we aspire to achieve, and perhaps the world needs to adjust what we recognise as ingenuity. Should the plaudits really go to the team behind the world’s tallest building, the fastest car, or the smartest phone? With the UN Global Sustainable Development Goals in mind, let’s put the thinking power into accessing clean water sources, developing sustainable and renewable energy solutions, building safe, resilient and sustainable urban areas and preventing disease.

“One of the UN’s goals is to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls by 2030. I would love to see more women choosing engineering as a career. It is hugely rewarding with the potential to make changes – both small ingenious solutions and huge world-changing developments – which can have a massive humanitarian impact.”

Professor Wanda Lewis

Professor Wanda Lewis is an Emeritus Professor in the School of Engineering. An expert on structures, she is a Chartered Engineer and a Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers.

I have spent my career developing form-finding methods for predicting optimal shapes of buildings and bridges, depending on statistically prevalent loads, such as structures’ self weight (a feature observed in Nature). So, in simple terms, I look at the best, most efficient shape for a structure and its purpose.

wanda_lewis.jpg“I have written numerous research papers and a research monograph in which the concept of form-finding is the main theme. My research expertise becomes a focus for the media and technical press from time to time – I have commented on Boris Johnson’s suggestion of a bridge spanning the English Channel, for example.

“My experiences of working in a male-dominated environment (both industry and academia) has been mixed, but rewarding. Women in engineering have the potential to really make a difference, delivering better methods and solutions to societal problems and challenges.

“I would like to see my research into form finding applied in the medical world. It would crown my career to secure funding for the development of a new, natural form of biomedical scaffold for use in bone grafting. This would be a fitting end to my research on form-finding.”

Dr Joanna Collingwood

Dr Joanna Collingwood is a Reader in Biomedical Engineering in the School of Engineering, and works to identify and understand the accumulation of trace metals, associated with degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, in the brain. It is hoped that by understanding these processes better, degenerative diseases can be detected and diagnosed earlier giving a better quality of life to the patient.

My role is a combination of research, teaching, and administration, and the academic career path offers tremendous opportunity to us, as engineers and scientists, to identify and work on the most challenging problems facing society. There are powerful approaches that have developed in the more traditional branches of engineering, which have great scope for application in emerging fields like biomedical engineering.

joanna_collingwood.jpg“Strong collaborations across the STEMM disciplines are essential in this regard, requiring excellent communication skills and the ability to build and sustain networks to deliver high quality results. I value working in a unified engineering school, and in an environment where we can network so freely between departments and across institutions, as it creates so much opportunity for knowledge exchange and the collaborative generation of new ideas.

“I’m glad to work in an academic role, as my profession provides opportunities to help society with the advancement of knowledge through research, as well as through inspiring and teaching future generations of engineers. A colleague from another institution once told me to ‘do the things that will matter in the long term’. I suspect they were hinting that I should prioritize the research I was leading at the time, but who is to know what our students may deliver in the future? Supporting their education to the best of our ability will enable them to achieve things beyond our imagination. This at once presents a fabulous opportunity, but also highlights how critical it is to embed professional integrity and an ethical approach into the training of our future engineers.

“I find it is certainly worth the effort, but not always easy, to balance the many parallel roles in the academic profession, and at the same time to achieve something approaching a ‘work-life balance’. It is particularly hard for people who have challenges such as caring responsibilities and/or a disability. There are also many highly qualified engineers and scientists who face significant and unnecessary barriers to returning to the engineering sector after a career break; this still disproportionately, although not exclusively, affects women. I am therefore glad to see real evidence of cultural change at national level, including practical measures, to ensure a more inclusive approach.

“I am proud to be a part of this change through my involvement with Athena SWAN and the Gender Task Force at the University of Warwick. I believe this cultural change is very important to help us attract and retain talent in the engineering sector. We need to enable our most capable aspiring engineers to fulfil their potential, regardless of their life circumstances.

“As for role models, I am sure that having role models in your chosen field to identify with helps with confidence. However, my advice would be that if you are in doubt, go and be that role model.”

22 June 2018

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