Crashing through the glass ceiling

21 November 2016

Amy BurrowsAmy Burrows was just 10-years-old when she began her first construction job on a piece of land in Goulburn, NSW. It was under the protective eyes of her father that Burrows took part in building the home in which her family still lives.

“I remember oiling bits of the roof – the beams and rafters – and digging out trenches after it had rained and they’d filled with dirt,” recalls Burrows. “I learned a lot there because I was really involved and I could ask questions. I’m a very big ‘why?’ person. I’m always asking it. I want to know how things work.”

It’s perhaps unsurprising then that, as a young adult, Burrows chose to study engineering. And that she chose to share her enthusiasm with other young women through UTS’s Women in Engineering and IT (WEIT) program, which this year celebrates its 35th anniversary.

As part of WEIT, Burrows signed up for the Sydney Women in Engineering and IT (SWIEIT) Speakers Program, visiting high schools across NSW and talking with students about her experiences as a female in engineering.

"It was through telling my story to younger women that I kind of realised I never really had another choice ... I love the problem solving, the challenges, the solutions, and seeing all the stuff in the middle"

It was through telling my story to younger women that I kind of realised I never really had another choice – I was born to come in this direction. I love the problem solving, the challenges, the solutions, and seeing all the stuff in the middle,” enthuses Burrows.

“The Women in Engineering program was so good because there are almost no women in mechanical engineering, so I made female friendships in other areas and I still keep in contact with them. They still send me crazy snapchats!”

But, Burrows says, it wasn’t until she began an 18-month placement at Transport for NSW’s Centre for Road Safety that she struck gold. As part of the role, the young engineer was assigned to coordinate a research project evaluating the performance of motorcycle safety barrier systems.

“We looked at a piece of motorcycle under-run – a barrier to stop motorcyclists sliding under the guard rail. It was a massive research project, and the guys at the Centre for Road Safety asked me if wanted to crash test it. I was like, ‘Hell yes I do!’.”

For the project, the centre purchased a crash dummy that Burrows says, was “different to any other crash dummy used at Crashlab.

“He didn’t need to be connected to any external equipment to record data – he has batteries and storage located inside him along with all the sensors.

“The dummy was clothed in full motorcycle gear, we put him on his back, and fired him head-first into different installations of barrier to assess how he’d react. It gave us a representation of how a person would end up after they hit it,” she explains. 

“I was very fortunate that the Centre for Road Safety let me use this project as my capstone topic and they funded the entire research program. 

“All undergraduate engineering students at UTS write a thesis – UTS calls it a capstone project – which other universities offer as part of an honours program. As part of the research work, I also produced a non-technical report for internal use within the Centre for Road Safety. This report has since been turned into a conference paper and presented at this year’s Australasian Road Safety Conference in Canberra.”

These days, Burrows is working in Parkes, NSW. As a Graduate Engineer with the Roads and Maritime Services, she is assisting the Western Region Program Manager to manage traffic and safety road works in western NSW.

“At the moment I’m working in what they call program delivery, it’s more of a financial, admin-type role rather than a hands-on one. I’m trying to build a well-rounded background before I get out into the world post grad,” says Burrows.

“As I get older and life changes, what I want from the job will change. I like how engineering is adaptable that way.”

This article was first published in the November 2016 edition of U:magazine. Reproduced with permission from U:magazine.

Story by Isabella Stevens, Bachelor of Arts in Communication (Journalism and Creative Writing)
Photography by Hannah Jenkins