Michelle Erwin

MIEAust

Senior Civil Engineer

GeoLINK

Michelle is a Civil Design Engineer at GeoLINK in Lennox Head, on the far north coast of NSW with substantial experience in the design of urban and civil infrastructure. Michelle is a Lead Road Safety Auditor with a master’s degree in traffic engineering. She is also a certified professional in erosion and sediment control (CPESC) and a member of a number of professional bodies (EA, IPWEA and IECA).

How long have you been a member of Engineers Australia?
About 16 years, since I was a student studying engineering in my home state at the University of Tasmania.

Why did you pursue a career in engineering?
If I’m honest, I’d have to admit I chose to study engineering for three reasons: money, maths, and the high male-to-female ratio – three things I was somewhat fond of in my late teens. Nearly two decades later and very happily married, I’ve learnt that money does not necessarily bring happiness. I really enjoy what I do, and I strongly believe in the values of the company I work for. For me, being happy at work far exceeds monetary wealth. And of course, getting to use maths on a daily basis is fun, too!

What is the most challenging or interesting project you’ve ever worked on?
Working for a small consultancy in a regional area, I rarely have input to large-scale projects. Although I have been involved in traffic studies for 40-storey towers on the Gold Coast, pipelines that pump sand from NSW to QLD, and vacuum sewerage systems for entire towns. But the most interesting projects for me might not seem very interesting to others. A lot of my work is designing subdivisions, and what I love about that is knowing that someday the lines on my screen will be home to hundreds of people. Kids will learn to ride their bikes on the footpaths, teenagers will learn to drive on the roads, and subdivisions become home towns. My challenge is to contribute to creating a place for families of all kinds to live happy lives.

What do you see as one of the biggest issues facing the engineering profession?
Many people often think of engineering as an old profession, relying on tried-and-tested, off-the-shelf designs, prepared by old men with questionable social skills. This perception can be all-too-easily perpetuated by ‘old men’ mentoring junior staff in ‘how things are done’.

I see this as a huge issue for the engineering profession, particularly when hearing that the gender disparity at universities and in the workforce is still so prevalent. Our society is made up of all kinds of people, and as engineers, we have a responsibility to meet the needs of everyone (our clients, government authorities and the community) as best we can. For me, this means having a diverse design team, liaising with other disciplines, keeping up-to-date with best-practise solutions, ensuring innovation in design, and thinking sustainably at each stage of every project.

Michelle Erwin

We need to attract more people to studying engineering and ensure ideas like innovation and sustainability are fostered and encouraged at universities, work places and in policy-making.

Who is your engineering hero?
The entity that has provided me with the most inspiration throughout my studies and my career, my ‘engineering hero’, is Mother Nature. Nature is a virtuoso engineer. A search on ‘biomimicry’ can lead to hours of fascinating reading. At every level of engineering, I believe a thorough understanding of how our natural environment works is key for creating new urban environments that fit harmoniously in their surroundings.

In the pioneering days of engineering, it seems the goal was to conquer nature for the convenience of human civilisation. These days we know better. We know the importance – and necessity – of protecting our natural environment and have found that working with Mother Nature, development can be achieved with healthier social, environmental and economic results.