Prestigious award presented for outstanding contribution to chemical engineering.
University of Wollongong (UOW) Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) Professor Judy Raper took the opportunity of being awarded the 2017 Chemeca Medal to speak about the need for greater diversity in engineering – and the benefits diversity brings to innovation.
“I strongly believe that diverse teams make better outcomes,” Professor Raper said.
The Chemeca Medal is the most prestigious award in chemical engineering in Australia and New Zealand, awarded to a chemical engineer who has made an outstanding contribution to the practice of chemical engineering and who continues to serve the profession.
Professor Raper was presented the award at the Chemeca 2017 Conference in Melbourne (23-26 July 2017), becoming only the second woman to win the Chemeca Medal since it was initiated in 1982.
In her keynote speech, “Mind the Gap: Addressing the Innovation Gaps”, Professor Raper talked about how the representation of women in chemical engineering had improved since she began her career, and how it could benefit from further change.
“In 1983, as a young academic, I was asked to give a presentation at the Chemeca conference on ‘The untapped sex’, about women in the industry. At the time, only about six to 10 percent of chemical engineering students were female,” Professor Raper said.
“It’s now 35 or 40 per cent women, so chemical engineering has done really well. However, in engineering overall it’s gone from 6 per cent women to 18 or 20 per cent, and if you look at senior positions, it’s only 15 percent women on company boards or in senior roles. So there is still a lot to be done to bring greater diversity to engineering.
“And when I talk about diversity, I don’t just mean greater representation and opportunity for women; I mean diversity across the board: racial diversity, cultural diversity, diversity of backgrounds, diversity of experiences. Company boards need a lot more diverse representation as well, not just women but people with engineering and science backgrounds are very much underrepresented on boards.
“If you bring people with different ways of thinking together it leads to better outcomes. That’s how you get innovation in industry and innovation in academia – through diversity. That’s why I really think students should be exposed to students and staff from other faculties as well.”
Professor Raper pointed to the success of interdisciplinary approaches to teaching and research as a way to foster innovation and transformation.
Successful examples of this approach at UOW that she pointed to included the winning Solar Decathlon entry for energy efficient housing; the Global Challenges initiative, which draws together researchers form different disciplines to tackle complex, real-world problems; the iAccelerate business incubator; and Advantage SME which brings businesses – including in manufacturing, engineering, ICT, financial services, health and aged care – together with university researchers.
“Innovation comes about through thinking differently, so we encourage innovation by doing things differently,” she said.
A chemical engineer by training and research, Professor Judy Raper was appointed Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) at the University of Wollongong in July 2008.
Professor Judy Raper
Her prior roles include Dean of Engineering at the University of Sydney, Division Director at the National Science Foundation in Washington and Department Chair of Chemical and Biological Engineering at Missouri University of Science and Technology.
In 2012, Professor Raper was named by the Australian Financial Review and Westpac as one of Australia’s ‘100 Women of Influence’, and in 2015 was named in the ‘Top 100 Influential Engineers’ by Engineers Australia for the third year running.
A fellow of the Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE), an Honorary Fellow of Engineers Australia and a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, Professor Raper balanced raising two sons – now successful professionals in Asia and the United States – in parallel with establishing her career.