All UON students have their own unique story to tell. Here at Navigator we want to share with you a few of those stories.
We spoke with Bachelor of Construction Management Student, Gina Gilmour, on what led her to studying at UON and her experience studying a traditionally male-dominated program.
NAVIGATOR: When you were younger did you ever picture yourself studying Construction Management?
GG: I’ve always been interested in the what, why and how of both the built and natural environment. As a kid, I always wanted Dad to take me along to the hardware store. I’d nail a few bits of wood together but I’d get bored. I was probably better at finding things for him to do. I’m not sure he listened.
When I was first at uni I went out with a guy who was studying civil engineering and could listen to him talk about roads and bridges all day. Then a chemical engineer – just as enthralling. Then I ended up marrying a brickie. And there was always Dad building something or other at Mum’s behest! I always wished I had the talent for these things and I got to a point (took me a while) where I realised there were genuine opportunities for women in the industry. I wouldn’t have been keen to be the only female, but one of several seemed real and achievable. I wanted to challenge myself, and I wanted to learn the what, the why and the how.
NAVIGATOR: What was your life like before UON?
I [originally] started university straight from high school and chose a Bachelor of Arts, planning to major in German. There was a bit of talk then that we could finish our degrees and get jobs as translators at the Sydney Olympics; sorry, am I making you feel young?
I left midway through my second semester to travel and mostly just to move. I moved with my best mate to the Whitsundays and worked on an island resort for four months, then I followed a boy to Sydney, where I worked at a finance company for nearly three years. I moved back to Newcastle to save money, and I worked a few jobs to save every penny so I could spend a year in Canada.
After travel I planned more travel, but instead did the family thing, having babies (a few years earlier than intended), a country pub (okay not much of a family thing) and finally resettled in Newcastle in 2012. By the time my youngest child had started Kindergarten I was itching to do something for myself. Being a mum and self-employed for 10 plus years leaves a bit of a gap in your resume.
NAVIGATOR: How did it feel when you first started studying a Bachelor of Construction Management?
The decision to start back at uni was pretty scary – I didn’t know if I could do it, how I would find the time whilst still supporting the family, how I would be supported at home. My son has a disability and I missed a few weeks in first semester while he was in hospital, and I allow four or more hours a week for his therapies and appointments. Usually it’s just life as we know it, sometimes things get a little more stressful. A friend of mine had started back at UON a year earlier whilst still working and juggling kids and family life; he helped give me the confidence boost I needed. It wasn’t as scary a leap as I’d thought, although I get pretty bloody anxious when I have an assignment due, and I’m often wavering between complete confidence and irrational fear of not doing something right!
I really love doing something for me, but it’s also something that will benefit my whole family (eventually!), so I can feel less guilty for spending time on myself. This is a guilt thing pretty common to parenthood.
NAVIGATOR: Do you feel supported while you study?
My family are a massive support. Mum or Dad will get the kids organised and off to school so I can attend morning lectures, and they are invaluable for school pickup when I’m working. I work about 30 hours a week and have four kids so there’s a bit of juggling to do, though nothing every other parent isn’t faced with. My eldest is in Year 8 and I like to joke with her that she and I can graduate from UON together. Now we just need to rope my Mum into it. Three generations graduating in the same year from the same university? Surely that’s front page of the Herald material!
NAVIGATOR: What is it like studying a degree that is traditionally male dominated?
It’s a little bit lonely being one of few females, and I’m probably old enough to be Mum to most but there were some excellent get-togethers at the start of the year to support women in the faculty, and I think this is essential to showing the kind of support we have. If I put my hand up I’m sure there’d be someone to help. I chose a mentor this year and she has been great too. I’m content knowing I’m finally studying what I want to study. I don’t really know any other females in my course – I only started back this year and only part-time. At O Day I was walking across the bridge from architecture to the Language Centre (where I spent some time back when it was a new building), and overheard two guys in front of me talking. I heard the words “15 years ago” and rudely interrupted, “You were here 15 years ago?”, “Haha, yes!”, “Excellent, I was here 20 years ago!” Thanks goodness for those boys, they may not know it but they’ve been my UON rocks ever since.
For women heading into a male-dominated industry – what industry wasn’t, at some stage, dominated by men? I was chatting to my cousin yesterday, he’s a firefighter, and we talked about the latest intake for jobs in his field. They had to take 50% women. Because if they don’t make a massive change to culture in the system, nothing will change. How many women were joining the police force 40 years ago? I had to do a white-card course (WHS for construction) at the start of the year, and there were, predictably, quite a few boring bits. After one too many indirectly sexist comments, I started a tally. The trainer wasn’t trying to offend. He was just talking about the industry, and relating it back to the males in the room, as men in the industry were his point of reference. It made me feel a little tired; there’s a long way to go. But we’ll get there.