Sue Scott

Sue’s graduation was a milestone for the University of Auckland. She was the first New Zealand-born woman to graduate as a Civil Engineer.

In 1975, Sue Scott graduated from the Faculty of Engineering with a specialisation in Civil Engineering. Sue wasn’t the only female student studying engineering at the time – there were four others – when she started. She was however the only one pursuing a specialisation in Civil Engineering in a class filled with around 90 men. She believes some of the prevailing attitudes of the time were part of the reason for the gender imbalance.

“Civil Engineering was something I always wanted to do but had been too easily dissuaded from it by those who considered that it would be too hard for a female student – it was 1972 after all.”

She originally completed a Bachelor of Science at Otago, but didn’t feel as though that was the degree she really wanted. She had friends studying at the University of Auckland already, and the Faculty of Engineering was prepared to accept her application.

Once in Auckland, Sue found that the other students were accepting of having a female classmate and began to enjoy her time here as she started to find her place. “It was a whole new environment for me, both the School of Engineering and the major geographical change for me. I made some great friends there and was able to reconnect with people I had met earlier who had moved to Auckland. My class, although otherwise all male, looked out for me and I enjoyed the ‘family’ atmosphere that existed.”

She encountered distinctive challenges while trying to find work experience and employment. Some of the reasons she was turned down for holiday work between semesters included the lack of unisex toilets onsite or in workshops, and the fact that her male colleagues were likely to swear a lot. In her search of graduate employment, she was only hired on a trial basis to make sure she could survive the working environment.

Sue also took the opportunity early in her career to promote life as an engineer at schools. Many of these trips were to girls’ schools, where she learned that not only were girls not considering a career in engineering, they were often unaware of what the work itself would entail. When she joined Opus in 2004, she noticed that this trend had reversed, with significantly more women graduating as engineers or completing polytechnic courses.

While Sue is semi-retired as of June last year, she still works as a casual employee at Opus in Alexandra, where she’s led by a vision to encourage people to approach engineering projects in more practical ways, “where projects are driven by necessity, not by greed for money; projects that benefit all people and allow them to better their lives.”

The Faculty of Engineering is committed to fostering an inclusive environment that mirrors the wealth of diversity we see in our day-to-day lives. This year’s intake of Part I students is a clear display of how much things have changed since Sue’s introduction to our faculty in 1972. It’s our highest ever proportion of female students at 27 per cent, proving that we’re on track to meet our goal of 33% by 2020.

Find out more about the efforts we’re making to ensure our faculty is an inclusive environment for everyone.