In May the YWCA announced a nationwide list of 25 women under 25 years of age who were excelling in their fields, recognised for their efforts in the community or just genuinely being a role-model. Among those 25 were former WSU Board Member Shalini Guleria and Ashleigh Dick who started Engineers without borders. Given recent events, we felt we could use a little more good news in our lives so we sat down with Ashleigh to discuss what the recognition has meant and her plans for the future.
NEXUS You will be familiar to a lot of students and faculty in the School of Engineering, but for those not fortunate enough to be in that school why don’t you introduce yourself?
ASHLEIGH Well, I’m a fourth-year student in Environmental Engineering. I grew up by the beach in little old Warkworth, moved to Hamilton, and found myself with some incredible friends and a very needy cat. I’m pretty low key, on a Saturday night I’m definitely more likely to be found doing an assignment rather than out at a party, but I know how to have fun when I want to. I love coffee, my veggie garden and my compost bin, you could say I’m a bit of an environmentalist.
NEXUS You were recently nominated for the YWCA’s Y25. Can you tell us what that is? What happens next for the nominees?
ASHLEIGH The Y25 list is to celebrate 25 wahine under 25 years of age who are living their ‘why’ and striving to build better futures. It’s way to help us get our voices heard and increase our support network with mentorship, passion and connections. The next step is a weekend hui in Auckland with all the nominees, to hear from some inspirational wahine who are already excelling in their fields.
NEXUS Who are your fellow nominees and what landed you amongst them?
ASHLEIGH The diversity of the group is incredible! There are environmental and community activists, STEM ambassadors, social justice advocates, talented artists, rainbow warriors, entrepreneurs and more! All of us with our own goals to better the community. My achievements have so far been involved with the community and helping to educate young children about the importance of STEM and creating futures that are more sustainable and achievable. I also am becoming involved with the wider community internationally through Engineers Without Borders, although that is more of a long term goal.
NEXUS You have played significant roles in some of the organisations for young engineers starting their journey into engineering. Can you tell us about some of those?
ASHLEIGH Sure! Last year a couple of engineering students and I started up the engineers with borders club for the campus, which ended up evolving into a Hamilton wide club for professionals as well. This provided us with some great opportunities to connect students and professionals and educate ourselves and the community about what EWB does and how we can help. We ran networking, community development and fundraising events. I’m also now working with YES, and although our big events have all been delayed this year, we are still planning some awesome webinars where students can interact with professionals and work on professional development. Lastly, I have to join Engineering NZ as the student rep for Waikato, which is another cool way to be involved. They offer TONS of free webinars, community-based and wellbeing courses on their website.
NEXUS What led you towards engineering as a career path?
ASHLEIGH I’ve always enjoyed science and I LOVE maths……said no one ever! But jokes aside, I don’t mind it. I love coming up with solutions to problems and working to achieve a final outcome. Its amazing what you can achieve using STEM knowledge! I also think that engineering is such a pivotal career when it comes to the development of societies as we face climate change and severe environmental degradation, and I knew this was the way I could help. I knew it would give me the skills I needed to not only know what our issues are but come up with better alternatives for our lifestyle and the planet.
NEXUS You are excelling in a field that is typically (unfortunately) male dominated. What challenges does that present to women coming up in the field? What opportunities does that present? What can the profession do to encourage more women to enter the profession?
ASHLEIGH Yes, unfortunately, this sometimes can be an issue. I try to ignore it mostly, but already in my very short career, I have noticed that in some situations it makes it harder to share ideas within the workplace and really feel like you are being taken seriously. In my mind, that opens up endless opportunities. The industry needs change and it needs it fast if we are going to make a dent in the environmental issues we face, and why can’t the women help bring the change. Women bring a whole different mindset to an industry like engineering, different values and different skillsets. We just need to be brave and keep trying to make the changes we want to see.
Because engineering is a math’s and science-based subject if you don’t have the knowledge from high school it can be harder (but not at all impossible) to get into it at university. I think the key to bringing more women into engineering is to promote STEM at primary and high schools. We need to get young people interested in STEM from the get-go, develop their sense of wonder and teach them how broad the industry is.
NEXUS Do you have a particular vision for your career? Is there anything specific you would like to accomplish?
ASHLEIGH I’ve always dreamed of one day having my own consultancy, focused on making sure developments are more sustainable and helping to regenerate the environment. That would take a LOT of work, but who knows! As long as I can look back on my career and know that I have somehow made this planet even a little bit better, I will be incredibly satisfied and proud of myself.
NEXUS Where to next for you?
I’m definitely sticking with engineering, I’m excited to get a couple of years of full time work and project experience under my belt. I’d also love to get more involved with the Engineering NZ Wonder Project (I am currently an in-schools ambassador), so hopefully that can happen at some point.
NEXUS What advice would you give to first year students, in engineering or otherwise?
ASHLEIGHGet to know your lecturers, especially in engineering, as they have a lot of knowledge and experience you can learn from. Join clubs and get to know the students in years ahead of you, they are also great people to learn from and can help you lots! Also, don’t take university for granted. Sure it’s hard and can be testing at times, but how lucky are we that we live in a country where higher education is made possible for us. Make the most of it!