We couldn’t celebrate National Youth Week without sharing some stories from the young Aussie engineers who are shaping our cities and tackling big issues like climate change, poverty and pollution in the process.
A young engineer on following his passion
The career ladder looks a bit different for research engineer Thomas Steigler MIEAust, who has packed a lot into the first four years in the profession, including being named the 2021 Young Professional Engineer of the Year for Engineers Australia’s Newcastle Division.
In 2018, he joined electrical engineering firm Ampcontrol while completing his honours thesis in gas detection. In 2020, he helped develop an emergency ventilator in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The ventilator prototype was developed in just 18 days, and Steigler was responsible for the electrical and mechanical aspects of the project. This resulted in the Therapeutic Goods Administration granting it emergency exception approval.
He has also been involved in building a new hydrogen battery, the first residential hydrogen energy storage unit of its kind, which aims to pioneer the next generation of green energy storage for domestic use.
A Year 12 student engineers solution to plastic pollution
Not many 18-year-olds can say they’ve engineered solutions that will have a tangible impact on their city.
For Year 12 student Tamsyn Burley it all started when she was trying to find an idea for her design and technology major project. Walking past a gutter and drain, she was inspired to design a novel filtering system to stop plastics from getting into stormwater drains.
The device is a basket that sits in stormwater drains and captures runoff and pollution from car parks – pollution that would normally seep into stormwater drains and end up in the ocean. “It’s made out of shade cloth mesh and it has an aluminium angle frame that sits on the edge of the drain. Not needing to drill it into the drain is a big feature. Then the Council has a big truck with a large vacuum that sucks the debris out,” Burley told create.
From there, she was connected with Engineers Australia Fellow and Chartered engineer Jo Withford FIEAust CPEng and City of Newcastle Asset Engineer Luke Jaszczyk to set up a real-life trial. When they saw how effective the innovation was, the City of Newcastle implemented the device to prevent microplastics from going through Newcastle’s stormwater system.
A Chief Petty Officer Marine Technician developing better engineering systems
Young Engineering Associate of the Year 2021 Damien Richards believes it’s the combination of his career experiences that will help him develop better engineering systems. He joined the Royal Australian Navy at 17 as a tradesman, before becoming a supervisor and now manager.
“I hope to blend these skills to enable me to join the development teams within these projects to provide an engineering perspective, as well as an end-user perspective, with the end goal of developing better systems overall,” Richards said.
He is currently Chief Petty Officer Marine Technician in the Navy, while also studying a Master of System Engineering through the unit at UNSW. He has been deployed on missions to provide humanitarian aid, peacekeeping and disaster relief.
“The defence forces require a lot of teamwork,” said Richards. “When we go out to sea, we’re operating vessels in very remote and isolated waters, which requires you to be self-sustaining as you have limited support mechanisms available to you.”
A young engineer tackling climate change, poverty and homelessness – to name a few
For Queensland Young Engineer Winner Zoe Eather MIEAust CPEng, it was the aftermath of the Queensland floods in 2017 that put her career path into perspective.
“I was working in construction on the flood damage works in rural towns and I realised that the people side of engineering is what I really love. The stakeholder engagement, the relationship-building — all the stuff that you don’t necessarily get taught at uni.”
Her career has taken her from rural Queensland to far-flung destinations like South Korea, the United States, Mexico, Denmark, South Africa and more. During an internship in South Korea, she became passionate about the concept of smart cities, places that use information and communication technologies to enhance sustainability and address growing urbanisation challenges. This experience inspired her to start her own consultancy firm called My Smart Community.
“I’m excited to use this platform to change the narrative of engineering, so we can encourage more creativity,” she said.
“I want to encourage people who can change the world to choose engineering so we can tackle the world’s biggest problems. Things like climate change, poverty, homelessness – we need engineers involved in those conversations.”
Anatomy of a Young Professional Engineer of the Year award winner
At primary school, Brittany Coff found herself immersed in science and geography projects on wetlands, stormwater quality issues and rainwater tanks. Years later at university, she realised these were the same fields that water and environmental engineers could specialise in. The diversity of the engineering field has allowed her to focus on her passions, which cover water resources, sustainability and humanitarian engineering.
After university, she pursued an engineering career spanning private, government and not-for-profit sectors. She also received a scholarship to study a Master of Engineering for Sustainable Development at the University of Cambridge.
Since returning home to Australia, she worked on strategic and advisory projects throughout the Murray Darling Basin. Today, she’s a senior water resources and strategy consultant at Adelaide’s Jacobs Group. She hopes to continue to inspire the next generation of engineers to tackle and solve water and sustainability issues.
A young engineer on the connection between engineering with humanities
She believes engineers play a broader stewardship role in tackling complex challenges. “At Aurecon we have committed to achieving net-zero operations by 2025. However, our greatest impacts are made through the work we do with our clients in engineering the future through sustainability-centric designs.”
Ultimately Clark believes that engineers are humanitarians: “A career in engineering offers us the opportunity to imagine, to create, and to bring to life city-shaping projects that will improve the wellbeing of people and communities for generations to come.”
A young engineer on the joys of working across the Northern Territory
Imagine waking up every morning for a week to the sun rising over Uluru. That was Michael Lee’s reality while he was conducting asset inspections in the Mutitjulu community, adjacent to Uluru.
But that’s just the start of what has made his career path so unique. “I’ve been lucky enough to travel across the Northern Territory,” he told create. “I’ve worked at Elcho Island, Nhulunbuy and I’ve been as far west as Kintore in the desert regions and Maningrida. I’ve also been involved in the construction of a 500-watt power station.”
For Lee, winning the Young Power Engineer of the Year award is a justification of his endeavours in the electrical engineering community. “I really hope this recognition will attract more young engineers to the Northern Territory – it’s a great place to start your career.”