High achiever who won out over prej­u­dices

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Rear View -

WHEN Laura Ken­dall was con­sid­er­ing a ca­reer, she wanted to make a pos­i­tive con­tri­bu­tion to so­ci­ety.

Now, as the En­gi­neer­ing Ser­vices Co­or­di­na­tor for the Surf Coast Shire in Vic­to­ria, Ms Ken­dall is work­ing on projects that af­fect the well- be­ing of res­i­dents liv­ing in the state’s fastest grow­ing re­gion.

In my teens and at school, I en­joyed maths and science more than English or lan­guages and was in­ter­ested in how I could best ap­ply my tal­ents to make a con­tri­bu­tion to so­ci­ety,’’ she says.

I wanted to make a con­tri­bu­tion I could see feel and touch.’’

Ms Ken­dall stud­ied a dou­ble de­gree com­pris­ing a Bach­e­lor of En­vi­ron­men­tal En­gi­neer­ing and Batch­e­lor of Science at the Univer­sity of Melbourne. There’s less of a fo­cus on struc­ture and ma­te­ri­als and more of a fo­cus on hy­draulics and hy­drol­ogy,’’ she ex­plains.

On grad­u­a­tion, Ms Ken­dall un­der­took some private sec­tor work but de­cided it was not an area that held a great at­trac­tion.

I did one sum­mer of work ex­pe­ri­ence at a con­sult­ing firm but I wanted to make the switch to the pu­bic sec­tor be­cause fo­cus­ing on work­ing for the good of com­mu­nity fits bet­ter with my value sys­tem than sim­ply work­ing for profit,’’ she says.

Ms Ken­dall says that she found the private sec­tor more tra­di­tional in their approach to women en­gi­neers than those work­ing in the pub­lic: When I worked in the private sec­tor where there was more su­per­vi­sion of blue col­lar con­trac­tors di­rectly on site, there was the at­ti­tude that, be­cause you are women, you don’t know what you are talk­ing about,’’ she says.

How­ever, her con­fi­dence in her abil­i­ties and her de­ter­mi­na­tion for her team to achieve good re­sults saw her though the projects.

‘‘ You roll with the punches and deal with it,’’ she says. ‘‘ Now we are at the point where you are not held back by those old- fash­ioned prej­u­dices.’’

‘‘ When I started out in the private sec­tor, I did a lot of field work tramp­ing around sites in my hard hat and boots, but it’s dropped back a bit and now I’m in the of­fice more.’’

How­ever, she adds that work­ing in lo­cal gov­ern­ment is much more in­ter­est­ing that in the private sec­tor.

‘‘ An­other ben­e­fit is that it’s not quite as cor­po­rate here and the en­vi­ron­ment is much more per­son­able,’’ says Ms Ken­dall.

Not con­tent to rest on lau­rels with her dou­ble de­gree, Ms Ken­dall is cur­rently study­ing a masters in pub­lic pol­icy and man­age­ment through Deakin Univer­sity.

For Madeleine McManus, Vice Chair­man of En­gi­neers Aus­tralia, Vic­to­ria, en­gi­neer­ing al­lows her to quench her pas­sion for chal­lenges, solv­ing prob­lems, help­ing peo­ple and mak­ing a dif­fer­ence. You can use your smarts and your in­ge­nu­ity to ad­dress prob­lems,’’ she says.

Ms McManus grad­u­ated with a dou­ble de­gree in me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing and eco­nomics in 1992 at Monash Univer­sity and agrees that an en­gi­neer­ing de­gree is a good jump­ing off point.

It gave me a wide variety of ca­reer op­tions, from work­ing with teams on large projects, to work­ing with so­ci­eties to im­prove their stan­dard of liv­ing,’’ she says.

‘‘ I have worked on projects in Aus­tralia, Italy and France, fo­cus­ing on wa­ter treat­ment, car­bon trad­ing ( about 15 years ago, when it was top­i­cal in Europe), plant pipe de­sign, project man­age­ment of plants in Aus­tralia and over­seas, wine blan­ket­ing and cryo­genic freez­ing.

Ms McManus says that en­gi­neers make it pos­si­ble for you to turn on a light switch, get to work, drink our wa­ter, feed the fam­ily and im­prove the stan­dard of liv­ing.

‘‘ The pro­fes­sion has a great di­ver­sity of achiev­ers and achieve­ments, and I love be­ing part of that story,’’ she says.

‘‘ The en­gi­neer­ing pro­fes­sion has re­ally changed, es­pe­cially in the last five years, to ac­tively work to re­tain the ex­per­tise of en­gi­neer­ing women and men who also have fam­ily re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.’’

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