Michaela Geytenbeek, 1st Student Chapter Chairperson of UKZN

It was February 2014. It was Thursday afternoon. I was seated in the tutorial room along with the rest of the first year engineering students. There was a cumbersome board in front of me. To my left another girl frantically sharpened her pencil. The girl in front of her looked on the verge of tears. While the boy on her other side lounged back completely relaxed. 

It was our third lecture in engineering drawing, a subject that was new to the large majority of us females. A subject that was very familiar to the males in our class. As many of the girls grappled with learning how our drawing boards functioned, the boys soared through the tutorials. 

Working the system

By the third lecture I noticed that many of my friends had worked out a winning formula. Each girl sat next to a boy. He speedily completed his tutorial while she set up her board. Once he was complete, they would swop boards and he would quickly complete her drawing too. We’d worked out how to work the system. And the reason we had to, was because the system was flawed at its core.

The majority of girls’ schools in the greater Durban area did not offer EGD as a subject while almost every single boys’ school did. As a result females entering engineering had one more obstacle to face than our male counterparts. I watched as they became disheartened and began to believe the common social narrative that Engineering is for Boys. Simply because they didn’t have access to the same opportunities that the boys had. 

Designed a programme

This didn’t sit well with my friend and SAIMechE colleague, Lindelwa Dlamini, and so we decided to do something about it. We designed a programme called GirlCAD which operated from the UKZN Mechanical Engineering building and offered free CAD tuition to girls. We approached a few schools and at our first event had 80 girls arrive. 

The programme has been supported and led by the UKZN SAIMechE Student Chapter ever since, providing a bridge for girls to enter engineering. Last year, one of the schools that we approached in 2016 has introduced EGD as a subject. Our drop in the ocean is creating ripples, and the largest thank you is owed to the dedicated UKZN SAIMechE Student Chapter who continue to pave the way to a changing narrative of who engineering is for. 

South African Institution of Mechanical Engineering (SAIMechE)
Tel: (011) 615-5660

6 Responses

  1. Well done Michaela and the UKZN Chapter. We need to read about positive initiative and innovation in engineering – that’s what it is all about!

  2. I wasn’t aware that there wasn’t EGD in girls’ schools until you wrote this article. I took EGD in my public government school Bonela Secondary in Durban back in 2008-2010. I guess I was privileged because it was a mixed-gender school that had girls and boys so I am certainly lucky. Thank you for all that you do to take our females out of the obstacle zone!! So happy about this.

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