Though she didn’t know it at the time, Sarah’s interest in engineering began as a child. She had a love of science, exploring ideas, and making structures and inventions in the backyard.
After discovering what engineering was really about, Sarah Callinan is now following this passion as a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) (R&D)/Bachelor of Business Administration student at The Australian National University (ANU).
Sarah is originally from Yeppoon, a coastal Queensland town. With a population of only 19,000, it’s about an eight-hour drive north of Brisbane, and is known for its pristine beaches and tropical climate.
“I’d only heard about engineers who wore hardhats and built bridges, and I couldn’t see myself in a career like that. I liked science, but I preferred talking to people over calculations, and designing or creating over following guidelines.”
It was only in her final year of high school that Sarah learned the true extent of the field.
“When I was looking at universities, I finally found that the scope of engineering was far broader than I had imagined. I learned that it is about using science and design to solve problems for the benefit of society.
“I was somewhat taken aback – this actually seemed like exactly what I would want to do, and I had dismissed it for years! This new understanding truly sparked something within me, and I haven’t looked back since,” she said.
Sarah was awarded a scholarship to attend ANU, and says this was pivotal when choosing what to do after school.
“Receiving my scholarship didn’t just influence my decision to come to ANU, it was what allowed me to make the choice at all! I simply would not have been able to move to Canberra without the support it has offered”.
“I actually didn’t even hear about ANU until the start of Year 12. Before then, I only knew about a few universities in my state. Someone in the year above me in high school had received a scholarship to ANU, and my interest was piqued,” she said.
Sarah took to Google to investigate the study opportunities and support available to her.
“I found something that seemed too good to be true: a scholarship to the university that would cover my living expenses completely! At first I thought I wouldn’t be able to compete with Australia’s best and brightest, but I applied anyway.
“I’m so glad that I didn’t let self-doubt get in the way. I would never be where I am now if I had! Now that I’m studying, my scholarship has provided me not only financial support, but also a network of people I can learn from, and turn to for help. It also allowed my parents to support my sister to study at ANU too,” she said.
Are you like Sarah: a young woman from a regional area thinking about studying engineering?
Coming from a small town, Sarah was surprised at how well she settled in to life at university.
“While I did miss my family, starting university was such an exciting experience that I think I forgot to feel homesick!
“Canberra is far bigger than Yeppoon, but the ANU community makes it feel a lot smaller. Though there were definitely times I felt out of my depth, there were always plenty of my peers around who were experiencing the same thing.”
She said that she found the College community very welcoming.
“I think the engineering community is especially tight-knit due to the smaller cohort size and our shared struggles through difficult courses! I never could have expected how happy I would be to live in the capital. Canberra is truly my home now,” she said.
The scholarship has also allowed Sarah to follow her passions outside of coursework, including being an advocate for women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) fields. She is actively involved with ANU Fifty50, a student-led gender equity initiative aiming to see more girls in STEM.
“If we want technology to be a bigger part of everyone's lives, we need to have greater diversity among the people who build it. It’s so important to increase the visibility of women in STEM. It’s by no means easy to deal with imposter syndrome, but the women who are brave enough to step outside of their comfort zones and succeed in STEM are paving the path for future generations.
“Strong female role models are vital in encouraging girls to pursue these disciplines. A career in engineering doesn’t just allow you to change technology - you're helping to change society,” she said.
Sarah also has some advice for students thinking of applying for a scholarship to ANU.
“Just do it! I know that there are many prospective students who didn’t apply for scholarships because they felt that they weren’t 'good enough' or weren’t the sort of person they thought the university was looking for. Applying for a scholarship is an opportunity for personal development, and a great way to get to know yourself”.