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Celebrating Women in Engineering

Saturday 23 June is International Women in Engineering Day – a day set aside globally to highlight some of the amazing work by women in engineering and technical roles. It also allows everyone to celebrate the achievements of our outstanding women engineers.

At Aurizon, the wide range of engineering disciplines underpin both our above rail and below rail operations, and we are proud of the women who contribute to the innovative design and solutions, which support our day-to-day operations. In this ‘Insights’ post, we spoke to two of our female engineers who shared some of their experiences and highlights from their career.

Menuka Koiri, Electrical Engineer
Menuka Koiri finished her Bachelor of Electrical Engineering at Tribhuvan University in Nepal in 2005, where she says she was only one of the six females in a class of 48 students.

When asked what led her to a career in engineering, Menuka says she always enjoyed maths and science at school and liked to solve problems. She says she would often spend time with her Dad fixing broken things, which she found quite amusing, given she had three brothers and was the only girl in the family.

Moving to Australia in 2009, Menuka began part-time studies in 2010 at the University of Queensland to obtain her degree in Masters of Electrical Engineering. Her studies were completed in 2013, and out of her cohort, Menuka was only one of seven females out of 35 students.

Menuka started her career in the manufacturing industry and says she has always been interested in renewable energy. Also fascinated with rail, Menuka started with Aurizon in 2011 and now works in our locomotive engineering team.

In her time at Aurizon, Menuka has been grateful for the opportunity to learn new skills and work across a variety of interesting projects including draft traction motors, air conditioners in locomotives, and working in various sections within the engineering team to gain new skills.

Menuka has also been able to pursue some of her passion for renewable energy, by working on a project investigating options for the optimisation of regenerative energy on Aurizon’s electric locomotives. Energy regenerated by electric locomotives during braking is fed to the overhead/supply system through the pantograph (the device mounted on a locomotive roof that collects power when in contact with an overhead line). Some of the electricity generated can be consumed by other trains in the same electrical section running at the same time while the rest is used by the general utility. The investigation result supported the implementation of our Driver Advisory System for energy efficiency on the locomotive and other projects for energy savings on electric locomotives.

In this project, Menuka had the opportunity to mentor two young engineers, which she said was an invaluable experience and opportunity to share her knowledge. For young women considering a career in engineering, Menuka says one of the best things about her work is the opportunity to be out in the field among the rail tracks and rollingstock and not always being behind a desk. Menuka advocates about the variety an engineering career offers, saying you don’t need to be pigeon holed into one area and can move into different fields such as management and operational roles.

Given there weren’t many women in engineering when she was a student, Menuka says she hopes to see more female role models and support groups for young students going forward. To complement her studies and practical experience, Menuka has recently applied to be a Registered Professional Engineer of Queensland, which provides formal recognition of the qualifications and competencies of an engineer by the Board of Professional Engineers of Queensland.

Alex Rohweder, Civil Engineer
In our below rail operations, a team of engineers is responsible for providing expert technical advice and design across the Central Queensland Coal Network. Alex Rohweder is currently working in the team as a railway track engineer.

Alex is a great role model to show there are many pathways to an engineering degree. When she finished year 12, she still wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with her career. Recognising the beauty in the arts, she studied Fine Arts and followed this up with a Masters in Creative Industries.

It was while working full-time on building expansion projects in a civil engineering company that Alex started studying engineering. Joining Aurizon in 2010, she completed her Bachelor of Civil Engineering from Queensland University of Technology in 2015. Alex also is a member of Engineers Australia and the Rail Industry Safety and Standards Board.

Now appreciating the practicability of engineering and recognising its direct influence in the quality of our society and surroundings, she says in hindsight she wishes she had looked for workplace experiences in engineering firms earlier. She believes engineering is more than just numbers, with many other attributes contributing to the discipline. She cites being creative, having the initiative to problem solve, showing an appreciation for technology and the desire to continuously learn and improve.

In her role as a railway track engineer, Alex says she enjoys being part of the developing design for construction, and especially loves how track engineering requires a good understanding of the existing structures and the long-term purpose of the rail infrastructure. She says she was fortunate to work on one of Aurizon’s greenfield rail solutions in Central Queensland earlier in her career.
When asked what advice she would give to females thinking about starting a career in engineering, her key point is that it is never too late to start. She says her prior experiences have given her the ability to be able see things outside the box and from different angles and to seek better problem solving in different situations. She says one of her senior colleague refers to her as ‘an engineer with inquiring mind’.

Ultimately, Alex says when young people find something they love doing, they should pursue it whole-heartedly and seek opportunities. In doing that, she recommends being willing to do what takes and never be afraid to ask questions. Like Menuka, Alex says having access to role models can greatly influence young engineers and provides them with exposure to what is possible.

Pictured: Menuka Koiri, Electrical Engineer and Alex Rohweder, Civil Engineer