Tag Archives: innovation awards

UNSW Women in Engineering Awards

They are named for some of Australia’s top research leaders and exemplify commercial outcomes from research. Yet the UNSW Women in Engineering Awards night this year also showed how far there is to go in approaching gender equity in one of the most inequitable fields of employment in Australia.

While some of the world’s leading engineers – responsible for world record solar efficiencies, in high performing perovskite solar cells for example – were recognised through the awards; students, research leaders and industry also heard of the barriers that persist in recruiting young women into engineering.

Engineering skills are central to leadership – trained in analytical approaches, problem solving and focussed on the big picture, it’s a critical path for tomorrow’s leaders.

A problem of supply

In 2016 just 13% of Australian engineers were women. Many come to engineering careers through UNSW Sydney, which as the largest engineering faculty accounts for 20% of the Australian engineering graduates that fill just one-third of the 18,000 engineering positions available each year.

The UNSW Women in Engineering Awards are designed to showcase excellence in engineering and also provide clear role models for young women. The university goes to considerable lengths to improve diversity in student intakes – making individual calls to women offered places at the university to encourage them to accept the offer. 

UNSW Women in Engineering Awards showcases strong role models

The Ada Lovelace Medal for an Outstanding Woman Engineer was awarded to Kathryn Fagg, Reserve Bank board member and President, Chief Executive Women. The Maria Skyllas-Kazacos Young Professional Award for Outstanding Achievement was won by Narelle Underwood, Director of Survey Operations at Spatial Services, a division of the NSW Department of Finance, Services. Prof Cordelia Selomulya, Professor, Monash University was awarded The Judy Raper Award for Leadership.

The UNSW Women in Engineering Awards are named after two of Australia’s leading engineer researchers, Maria Skyllas-Kazacos and Judy Raper.

Maria Skylass-Kazacos is one of Australia’s first female professors in chemical engineering. Judy Raper is ‎Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) at University of Wollongong.

The award attributions are included below.

The Ada Lovelace Medal for an Outstanding Woman Engineer

Kathryn Fagg is a chemical engineer by training who has held technical and leadership roles in the petroleum, banking, steel-making and logistics sectors. She now serves on the board of the Reserve Bank of Australia, is Chairman at Melbourne Recital Centre, and holds Non-executive Director roles at Boral, Djerriwarrh Investments, Incitec Pivot and Breast Cancer Network of Australia. She also serves as President of Chief Executive Women and speaks publicly on issues relating to gender equity in business.

The Judy Raper Award for Leadership

Cordelia Selomulya UNSW women engineering awards

Professor Cordelia Selomulya leads the Monash Biotechnology and Food Engineering group and is director of both the Australia-China Joint Research Centre for Future Dairy Manufacturing, and the Graduate Industry Research Partnership for the Food and Dairy industry. Professor Selomulya leads the Monash Advanced Particle Engineering Laboratory in interdisciplinary research on the design of nanoparticle vaccines and mesoporous materials. She has designed a more efficient DNA vaccine delivery system for malaria using magnetic nanoparticles, revealed the role of nanoparticle adjuvants for ovarian cancer vaccines, and developed multi-stage vaccines for malaria.

The Maria Skyllas-Kazacos Young Professional Award for Outstanding Achievement

Narelle Underwood UNSW women engineering awards

Narelle Underwood is the Surveyor-General of NSW and Director of Survey Operations at Spatial Services, a division of the NSW Department of Finance, Services and Innovation. She is the first woman to ever be appointed to the role in any Australian state. As Surveyor General she is the President of the Board of Surveying and Spatial Information (BOSSI), Chair of the Geographical Names Board, NSW Surveying Taskforce and the Surveying and Mapping Industry Council.

Investing in small business

Featured image above: Charles W. Wessner is a distinguished scholar and research professor in Global Innovation Policy at Georgetown University, and director of the Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship program at the National Academies.

Innovation is recognised as a key to growing and maintaining a country’s competitive position in the global economy. Australian scientists produce top-quality research and punch above their weight in terms of peer-reviewed publications; however, Australia is much less successful in creating innovative products and processes based on research investment. If we want more innovation, university and government policies need to change.

Part of this change requires learning from the successes of other nations. Successful policy changes include increased support for universities and research centres, growing funding for competitively awarded applied research, sustained support for small businesses, and a focus on partnerships among government, industry and universities in bringing research ideas to market.

The USA is the land of free-market capitalism, but it is also an active entrepreneurial state. A highly effective US government initiative, for example, is the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, which has been in existence for 25 years and was recently renewed by Congress.

Instrumental in this renewal was an assessment by the National Academy of Sciences, which found the SBIR program “sound in concept and effective in operation”.

The program provides highly competitive, phased innovation awards to small businesses and start-ups to develop products that meet agency mission objectives or provide social value. The awards range from US$150,000 to more than US$1 million. The grants are often linked to the procurement process, for example in the case of military acquisition and support. In other fields, such as health and energy, grants provide a means to push good ideas to market.

SBIR has a strong track record. In recent years, it garnered 20–25% of the top 100 R&D awards for the US economy as a whole, and helped agencies like NASA address specific needs such as instruments for exploring Mars. SBIR doesn’t replace venture capital, but rather augments it by de-risking ideas to the point where private investors can step forward. Reflecting its success in the USA, SBIR has been adopted by a number of other countries.

While SBIR is a success, it is not a panacea. Effective innovation policy is multidimensional, and a supportive policy framework that encourages universities to commercialise new products and processes is required. Policies that facilitate start-ups and encourage small to medium-sized businesses are also needed.

Governments need to invest in places where researchers and companies can meet, learn, cooperate and grow. For example, science and technology parks near universities, incubators, accelerator programs, and innovation awards that facilitate collaboration.

Adopting pro-innovation policies does not guarantee instant success – but not adopting them guarantees long-term stagnation.

– Charles W. Wessner