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QLD's Pioneering Women in STEM: The First Women in Engineering

Back view of engineer woman in hardhat outdoor and sketched concept on screen
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On June 6, we introduced you to Valeria Blakey, the first woman to graduate with a degree in engineering in Queensland.

Today, in honour of Women in Engineering Day (23 June), here is a look at a few more of Queensland's pioneering women in STEM.

Civil Engineering - Dr Deirdre Stone (née Vance)

Dr Stone was the second female engineering student in Queensland, and the first woman to graduate in Civil Engineering in 1955.

Before she began her studies, she was offered a cadetship with the State Government in "any faculty except engineering," as it was "not the policy of the Queensland Government to employ women engineers."

Following her graduation, Stone left Australia to complete the Hydropower Diploma at Imperial College, London.

She moved to Canada to work for the Department of Northern Affairs and National Resources, before returning to Australia to work for the University of NSW Water Research Laboratory.

In 1969, she retired from engineering to concentrate on family and work in Medieval Latin poetry, the subject of her PhD.

Mining-Minerals and Materials - Kathleen Gillian Duncan (née White)

Known as Jill to her friends, Duncan was the first female engineering student to graduate in Mining-Minerals and Materials in 1957.

After completing her studies, Duncan worked for a sand mining company for a short time before gaining a position with CSIRO at The University of Melbourne.

In 1958, she moved to Africa due to the lack of suitable work in Australia.

At first, Duncan worked with Anglo-American at Kitwe in Zambia (then Northern Rhodesia), she later moved to Johannesburg to work for the Johannesburg Chamber of Mines.

Duncan retired in South Africa, and continued to live there until she passed away in September 2017.

Electrical Engineering - Else Shepherd AM (née Budtz-Olsen)

In 1966, Shepherd became the first woman in Queensland to graduate in Electrical Engineering.

She moved to Mackay as soon as she graduated. She and her husband were both employed by the Sugar Research Institute, where she developed the computing skills that would propel her career.

Shepherd made a significant contribution to the sugar industry, including the implementation of computer processing systems for train scheduling, payments and accounting systems, and process control in the factories.

She returned to Brisbane in the 1980s and formed a company which designed and manufactured innovative telecommunications products, and was appointed Chair of Powerlink in 1994, a position she held for 17 years.

In 2002, she co-developed Microwave and Materials Designs, a company specialising in producing microwave filters for mobile phones, which has since been sold to Nokia.

Currently, Shepherd is CEO in Residence/Adjunct Professor at Queensland University of Technology. She continues to be an active member of the Institution of Engineers, Australia, using her expertise and influence to pave the way for other women engineers.

Mechanical Engineering - Susan Dunstan (née Kilvert)

Dunstan graduated in 1970 as Queensland's first female Mechanical Engineer.

She went on to work for the Main Roads Department, where she worked on a program to calculate the average road speed of heavy transport, studied computer systems, and researched vehicle testing facilities in the US, Canada and the UK.

The data she collected became the basis for road worthy certificates testing in Queensland.

Dunstan left Main Roads in 1976 to have a family, and found it difficult to gain employment which would allow her the flexibility she wanted as part-time jobs were not readily available at the time.

She eventually gained a five-year contract with the Queensland Electrical Commission which provided the flexibility she sought after.

Dunstan has continued to work in database design, programming, and implementation.


Between 1950 and 1977, 32 women graduated with engineering degrees from The University of Queensland, including a further 16 in Chemical Engineering, five in Civil Engineering, four in Electrical Engineering, and two in Mining and Metallurgy.

In 2016, women still only accounted for 12.4% of working engineers in Australia, according to Engineers Australia's report: The Engineering Profession.

The 2018 Federal Budget includes funding for an Ambassador for Women in STEM, we're hoping this will lead to more diversity in traditionally male-biased professions such as engineering.


These women's stories were primarily sourced from the book: Celebrating a Century - 100 years of Chemical Engineering at UQ (pp52-55, 121-134)

Orangepeel Science Communications was contracted by The University of Queensland to assist in putting together this book, which is a collection of personal stories and achievements of The School of Chemical Engineering, and their impact on society.

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