From young engineers burning bright with enthusiasm to those still innovating from semi-retirement, the stirring scope and ambition of Australia’s engineering community was on full display in Sydney last night.
Hundreds of the profession’s finest gathered at the annual Engineers Australia Excellence Awards gala dinner, to celebrate a list of winners whose achievements highlight the innovation driving engineering forward.
Though their work spans a remarkable number of fields and approaches, the winners were united by a passion for raising the profile of the contribution engineers make.
This year’s top talent
Peter Nicol Russell Career Achievement Memorial Medal: Peter Cockbain AM, HonFIEAust
Young Professional Engineer of the Year: Deanna Hood, MIEAust
Professional Engineer of the Year: Prof Karu Esselle, FIEAust
Engineering Technologist of the Year: Nicholas Clarke MBE CSC, TFIEAust CEngT EngExec NER
Engineering Associate of the Year: Malcolm Shepherd, AFIEAust CEngA EngExec NER APEC Engineer IntETn(Aus)
Honorary Fellows: Prof Hui Tong Chua, Dr Ernest Evans, Prof Keith Hampson, David McHugh, Prof Doreen Thomas AM, Merryn York, Prof Xinghuo Yu
Peter Nicol Russell Career Achievement Memorial Medal
Engineers Australia’s most illustrious individual accolade, the Peter Nicol Russell Career Achievement Memorial Medal, was awarded to longtime leader Peter Cockbain AM HonFIEAust in recognition of his lifelong dedication to the field of engineering and the broader community.
With a career spanning decades, Cockbain is a founder of electrical manufacturing company, Ampcontrol, and has been a passionate member of Engineers Australia for more than 50 years, including a stint as National President.
Cockbain was also appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 2015 for his service in the field of electrical engineering, and awarded the University of Newcastle Alumni Medal for Professional Excellence in 2021.
Despite this track record, Cockbain said the award still came as a big shock.
“It was quite a shock and, to some extent, an embarrassment because there are thousands of engineers out there who deserve this medal,” he said.
Despite the many awards and recognitions Cockbain has received, one of his proudest achievements was attaining his engineering qualifications while raising a young family.
“I started as an apprentice electrician when I was 15. I went to university when I was 26, during which time my wife and I had our three children. I studied for six years, four nights per week, three hours per night. It was a fair haul and a big achievement,” he said.
“Without having the support of my wife, none of that would’ve been possible.”
But Cockbain said he is also proud of Ampcontrol, the company he co-founded in 1966, and how far it has come – a success he puts down to the collaborative stance the company took from day one.
“I have only ever been a willing participant in very talented teams. Collectively, we’ve achieved a lot. Our company logo is: ‘I can’t do it. You can’t do it. But we can’. It’s always been about what we could achieve together, not the individual achievement of one person,” he said.
Young Professional Engineer of the Year
Robotics engineer Deanna Hood MIEAust has been named the 2022 Young Professional Engineer of the Year in recognition of her impressive work and dedication to leveraging engineering know-how in pursuit of changing the world for the better.
A tireless ambassador for altruistic engineering, Hood has worked on a variety of technological marvels, including: a brain-controlled car for people with paralysis; a 3D-bioprinter enabling cancer researchers to print living replica-tumours; and a low-cost USB stethoscope for diagnosing childhood pneumonia.
Just 13 years since she entered the world of engineering, Hood’s most recent endeavour was as one of two founding engineers on Ligō – a skin-printing robot that allows faster and improved skin regeneration of large-area burns.
“I still find myself in shock at the engineering career that I’ve created for myself, given that I had never even heard of engineering when I finished high school. I feel so lucky I am to have stumbled upon this career, because I enjoy it so much,” she said.
“The EA Excellence Awards are very exciting for me because my side job has always been promoting the impact of engineering to young people who want to make a difference in society.
“There are outdated stereotypes of who engineers are and what they look like. Meanwhile, young people today can very clearly see the challenges society is facing, and they’re hungry to make a difference. Engineering can actually be the perfect fit! But the fact that I nearly didn’t even consider engineering is what makes me so passionate about its promotion.”
In terms of where she’d like to see her career go in future, Hood said she wouldn’t mind a repeat of the past 10 years, but that the exact type of technology she’ll be working on is likely yet to be foreseen – which is what she loves about engineering.
“I’d love to continue to travel the world while designing cutting-edge technology in a variety of disciplines. The beauty of engineering is you get to contribute to so many different aspects of society,” she said.
“Whatever I’m working on in the future, I know it’ll be fun. It’ll be a new innovation that we can’t even think of now. I’m excited to take part in the future of engineering. And I’ll also definitely continue encouraging new engineers into the discipline and supporting those who have followed behind me.”
Professional Engineer of the Year
UTS Professor Karu Esselle FIEAust has taken out the 2022 Professional Engineer of the Year award for his leadership in advancing human connection and capability through engineering, with many of his developed technologies focusing on social and economic sustainability.
Fellow of the Royal Society of New South Wales, IEEE and Engineers Australia, and a Director of Innovations for Humanity Pty Ltd, Esselle is an internationally renowned researcher in electromagnetic and antenna engineering.
His current work includes a soon-to-be-announced project with the potential to provide low-power, low-cost high-throughput internet access from anywhere in the world and advancing the control of implanted medical devices.
Esselle said he was humbled by the award and dedicated the honour to his associates, collaborators and students.
“Mentoring the next generation of engineers and scientists has been my passion for decades and it will continue,” he said.
“The next new big step would be helping Australia to become a global leader in engineering technology, by developing innovative, world-leading products that are designed, developed, and hopefully manufactured by Australians for domestic and global markets.
“Australia can’t prosper as an importer of technology – strong dependence on imports for critical applications compromises Australia’s national sovereignty as well.”
Engineering Technologist of the Year
Nicholas Clarke MBE CSC, TFIEAust CEngT EngExec NER has been named the 2022 Engineering Technologist of the Year in acknowledgement of his contribution to and delivery of cutting-edge engineering solutions in a variety of sectors.
With a background in space, weapons and intelligence, Clarke served in the Australian Defence Force before working as an engineer delivering state-of-the-art technologies for defence, government agencies and coalition forces.
“I was absolutely flabbergasted to be named the Engineering Technologist of the Year by Engineers Australia. I’m at the tail-end of my career, but I still get a big buzz out of what I do,” Clarke said.
“Every day, I work towards finding new ways to use technology. My job is all about taking technology that is being used a certain way, and altering it to create completely new applications.”
Acknowledging his work is at the forefront of innovation, Clarke said he wants to see more people being inspired by the great work there is to do in the field: “I believe we’ve got to get engineering back to being exciting,” he said.
“It’s up to us as engineering specialists to show that engineering is actually really interesting. As engineers, we actually do more for people than most likely any other profession, but this isn’t broadly recognised.
“Engineers’ work is exciting, we come up with ideas that nobody’s ever thought of before. I want to get that passion back into engineering and showcase how valuable our work really is.”
Engineering Associate of the Year
WaterAid Australia Director Malcolm Shepherd, AFIEAust CEngA EngExec NER APEC Engineer IntETn(Aus) took out the Engineering Associate of the Year title following his contribution to engineering and society via community well-being projects within the water space.
“I’ve had lots of memorable moments in my career but being recognised by peers with an award such as this is an unforgettable moment,” he said.
Aside from his current role as Director at WaterAid Australia, Shepherd has held past roles as Director of the Australian Water Association and WaterAid Australia, as well as being a member of the Australian Water Partnership (AWP) Advisory Committee, the IPA Water Taskforce and a CEDA Trustee.
“Being a value-based leader, giving back to the profession that has given me so much pleasure is important for me,” he said.
“The ability to influence the strategic direction of engineering in the water sector to deliver the benefits and outcomes through reframing the way that people think about problems in the water sector I have found personally rewarding.
“I am particularly proud of my contribution regarding gender, equality, social inclusion, and disability through WASH (water and sanitation and health) programs in emerging economies which can, ultimately, contribute to the health of women and children. Healthy children become healthy adults and healthy adults can make a difference in changing the cycle of poverty.”
WaterAid’s vision is that everyone, everywhere can have access to safe drinking water, Shepherd said, and the not-for-profit’s aim is to deliver on Sustainable Development Goal 6.
“We are all about delivering on projects that lead to good health, education, and societal outcomes. Much of the work of both WaterAid and the AWP are based upon engineers giving back to people in vulnerable communities.”
Learn more about the other awards and winners here.
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