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Space nerd gets a boost from new engineering scholarship
Friday 3 June 2022
Josie Bates felt a bit daunted when she first arrived on campus.
“Coming to ANU from a rural background, you don't know many people, sometimes you don't know anyone at all,” she said. “It’s kind of hard. I found it hard anyway, especially with COVID.”
It was February 2021. Her final year of high school in the small mining town of Singleton, NSW had been disrupted by bushfires and lockdowns. Now Josie found herself in the nation’s capital, at the nation’s leading university, navigating the first day of the biggest adventure in her life thus far.
Her initial goals included learning her way around campus, setting up her course schedule, and making friends with whom she could study. She would also need to find a job.
But thanks to a new scholarship for rural women launched by the ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science (CECS), Josie was able to delay the job search and focus on settling in.
She credits the CECS Advantage Scholarship, an offshoot of the Kim Jackson Scholarship, with easing her transition and providing a support network that has allowed her to thrive.
Coolest career ever
When she was 16 years old, Josie and her classmates went on a school excursion to the Williamstown Air Force Base in Newcastle, NSW. The engineers and mechanics who worked on the aircraft there were almost all men, but that didn’t stop her from envisioning herself joining their ranks one day.
“I just thought that was the coolest career ever to work on these amazing fast-flying planes,” she said.
Rather than searching the web for pet bloopers or celebrity gossip, Josie preferred videos of rocket launches and images beamed back from space missions.
"I was a bit of a space nerd," she said.
In school, she excelled at maths and science, so much so that her teachers pulled her aside and encouraged her to pursue a career in engineering.
“They spoke to me about the different options, how science is a bit more narrow in what you study, whereas engineering is really interdisciplinary and also involves working with people,” she said. “That resonated with me.”
Singleton is about 200 km north of Sydney and has population of 16,000. It was rare that Josie made a new friend whose parents weren’t acquainted with her own parents. In choosing a university, she knew she’d be leaving that small-town friendliness behind. She wondered how far she wanted to venture from home.
The engineering programs at the top universities in Sydney were “very highly regarded”, she said. And she was also drawn to the University of Newcastle, which was only an hour’s drive from her home.
After receiving offers from several universities, she chose ANU in no small part because of the scholarship.
“I took it as a sign,” she said.
A scholarship with multiplier effect
The Kim Jackson Scholarship was founded by CECS alumna Kim Jackson who went on to become a principal at a private investment company called Skip Capital. Her goal was to support and mentor female-identifying students in non-metropolitan areas.
Josie had applied to ANU without knowledge of the scholarship, which was in its inaugural year. But as part of the application process, she received advice that she qualified and was invited to apply.
“It was targeted to rural women in engineering, so I checked all those boxes, which was nice,” she said.
Josie was not ultimately chosen for the Kim Jackson Scholarship, but she had less than a day to be disappointed.
As a finalist for the Kim Jackson Scholarship, she had qualified for the CECS Engineering Advantage Scholarship, and she was thrilled to learn that she was one of three recipients.
Like the Kim Jackson scholarship, the CECS Advantage scholarship provides generous tuition support and offers mentoring and career development.
“When one university is kind of offering you that little hand outstretched, it’s hard to pass up such a great opportunity, not only financially, but also the networks and the people that I would be able to meet through it,” Josie said.
As part of the scholarship program, Josie was invited to social events where she met academics and staff members. The other scholarship recipients soon become her friends.
“We’ve formed a little community,” she said.
By the time Josie started her second semester, she’d become adept at balancing her studies with a part-time job working at an off-campus café. She was enjoying her classes, which were mostly in-person as the Australian Capital Territory had had only a hundred or so Coronavirus cases, and participating in intramural sports such as touch football, soccer and AFL 9s.
Then, in August of 2021, Josie learned along with the rest of the Canberra that the Delta variant had begun to spread in the ACT.
After a month in lockdown, Josie decided to leave campus and go back to Singleton. Rural NSW had lifted most of its public health restrictions, and, as ANU courses were being taught remotely, she thought she may as well study from home.
“It was a good choice because I could catch up with family and friends and enjoy being out of lockdown,” she said.
Her favourite class that semester was 'Introduction to Mechanics’, a mandatory class for all engineering students at ANU, taught by Prof Kiara Bruggeman. The course had begun in a hybrid format, with Bruggeman combining remote teaching methods developed during ACT's first lockdown with her in-person lectures.
“Kiara Bruggeman is a fantastic lecturer and professor,” Josie said. “The energy and the charisma that she carried into every class really helped to lift our spirits. At the start of every lecture, she'd have her dog with her, and we’d all get to post photos of our dogs which was really nice, because a lot of us were at home and it made it feel a bit more like a community.”
The course included a group project, and Josie's project team included two friends who were also CECS Advantage scholarship winners. Their challenge was to collaborate on the design and building of a miniature bridge. Three team members worked remotely while two were on campus.
“The people on campus were really nice and they basically built the bridge for us,” Josie said. “And then we had to analyse the angles, the trusses, all the forces acting on the bridge.”
Josie said the comradery and rapport she had developed with her scholarship besties prior to the lockdown made it easier to work remotely.
“Yeah, we smashed the assignment,” she said.
Josie stayed home for 5 or 6 weeks, then came back to Canberra for a week of college events and to pack up her things for the end of the year.
Now, she is here on campus in her second year. Classes have resumed in hybrid format. She is back on the sporting fields, with a new part-time job with the ANU Future Students Team. She recently declared a double major in aerospace engineering and economics.
One of the highlights of 2022 has been the student-organised Women in STEM conference, which was held on campus during the mid-semester break.
“I found it extremely inspiring to meet so many female academics conducting research,” said Josie, who is herself considering post-graduate study. “I got a lot of advice about what doing a PhD is like and what skills I should have.”