Shannon Kieran


Civil and Structural Engineering Master’s Student

Charles Darwin University

Shannon is a final year Master of Civil and Structural Engineering student at Charles Darwin University. During her studies, she has undertaken humanitarian research in rural Indonesia and worked for the NT Department of Infrastructure Planning and Logistics in transport and civil infrastructure.
She is the current President and a co-founder of the NT Chapter of Engineers Without Borders Australia.

How long have you been a member of Engineers Australia?
Four and a half years.

Why did you pursue a career in engineering?
I decided to pursue engineering when I left school because I loved science but wanted a career that was more practical than pure research. I wasn’t entirely sure what an engineer did day-to-day, but I liked the idea of creative problem solving and applying science and technology to solve real-world problems. Five years on, I am happier than ever with my decision. Engineering is a stimulating career that requires continual learning, problem-solving and creative thinking, and that’s what I love best about it.

How can Australian communities/people/society benefit from your work now and in the future?
During my time with the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics, I undertook a comprehensive gap analysis assessing maintenance and regulatory compliance gaps across the Northern Territory Government’s portfolio of transport assets. My work on this project is assisting with ensuring that public infrastructure continues to be safe and functional for Territorians to use.

I am also active in the Darwin community, including co-founding the Northern Territory Chapter of Engineers Without Borders in 2018 which involved developing our School Outreach Program as founding School Outreach Coordinator, an ongoing project which is one of the achievements I am proudest of. Through our School Outreach activities, I am able to give back to the community I grew up in by encouraging school students to consider STEM careers while teaching them the principles of sustainable development and the importance of ensuring we develop solutions which have a positive impact on society. In the future I aim to continue expanding on our outreach programs, as well as continue to contribute to society through engineering projects.

I have also had opportunities to have an impact outside of Australia. In the third year of my studies, I travelled to Sumba, Indonesia, to undertake humanitarian civil engineering research investigating the cause of permanent flooding in two rural villages and proposed potential solutions to the problem. The flooding was affecting the livelihoods of over 60 local families by preventing the area from being used for agricultural production, and was also responsible for increasing incidences of water related diseases. My recommendations and proposed solutions were delivered to the Indonesian government at the end of the project. This project was instrumental in helping me realise how engineering has a very real impact on people’s quality of life.

What is the most challenging or interesting project you’ve ever worked on?
One of the most challenging experiences I have had so far is developing the NT’s Engineers Without Borders School Outreach Program. Although the national branch of Engineers Without Borders has been invaluable with providing assistance and support to us, we are a brand new chapter in a relatively remote location. Recruiting volunteers, building networks of contacts and connections, and developing management processes and delivering content is an ongoing challenge that I am enjoying.

What do you see as one of the biggest issues facing the engineering profession?
The engineering profession shapes society through technological innovation and infrastructure development, therefore, the biggest issues facing society become issues relevant to the engineering profession. I believe that one of the biggest issues that will (and is already beginning to) affect society is the effect of climate change and human-related environmental degradation. For Australia in particular, a primarily arid country with over 80% of its population clustered within 50km of the coast, the effects are already being felt through increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events and by changes in coastal patterns. These changes will have ramifications for water security, agriculture, health and political tension. Engineers will need to be prepared to rise to the challenge, both in terms of adapting our infrastructure to become more resilient, and in terms of developing solutions which minimise our impact on the climate and natural environment.

What excites you about the future of the profession or what opportunities do you see for the future?
I believe that it is these same challenges which present the most exciting opportunities for the future. As an engineer, I will have the opportunity to be on the frontline of developing and implementing solutions that will meet the emerging challenges of this century, and that is very exciting indeed.

Who is your engineering hero?
Honestly, I think that any engineer who is committed to developing sustainable solutions to society’s needs and inspiring others to do the same deserves to be recognised as a hero! I think it is the heroes we meet every day and inspire us in many little ways who are the most important, because their achievements are within the reach of everyday people and encourage all of us to face our challenges and become the best we can possibly be.

Image: courtesy of Shannon Kieran