Blast the glass ceiling

16 Dec 2019

This Q&A is published in Contact Magazine.

Nyah Teiotu (Bachelor of Engineering ’11 / Bachelor of Engineering (Honours Class 2B) ’16) is a proud Wemba Wemba woman, BHP’s first Indigenous female engineer, and the Queensland Resources Council’s Most Exceptional Person of 2019. Contact’s Rachel Westbury sat down with the blast and drill mining specialist to learn how she is leading the charge for the next generation of Indigenous women in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM) fields.

When did you first realise you wanted to be an engineer?

I was 18 and in my first year of a science degree. I attended a careers expo at UQ and all the employers wanted engineering students. That summer break I applied to study engineering, and I started the next year at UQ. During my first vacation role as an undergraduate civil engineer, I was working in the Hunter Valley mines with amazing people and learnt what it was like to work on a mine site. I was in awe of the big trucks. That’s when I knew I wanted to be an engineer.

Why did you decide to specialise in drilling and blasting? Do you feel that your experience at UQ helped take your career to a new level?

I was working as a civil engineer in the Pilbara mines. I wanted to work in mine planning as the lifestyle roster was more appealing – I had been on a three-weeks-on, one-week-off construction roster at the time. With the support of my husband and my mother, I went back to study mining engineering at UQ and graduated two years later in 2016. UQ mining gave me the confidence to pursue a mining career. I worked really hard and achieved good results. I had my daughter in my final semester, I received a Dean’s Commendation for Academic Excellence and graduated with second class honours. I took that confidence, work ethic and resilience and applied it to my mining graduate roles. The momentum led me to a permanent role as a drill and blast engineer at Blackwater mine.

You volunteer with the Australian Indigenous Educational Foundation (AIEF) scholarship program to mentor Indigenous students in STEMM. Why is this cause so close to your heart?

I was a recipient of the AIEF–BHP scholarship in my final year of mining, and the scholarship provided an opportunity to apply for a graduate role with BHP. Financially, the scholarship allowed my family to live close to UQ so I could easily walk, while very pregnant, to and from my classes. Living so close when my daughter was born allowed my mum to bring her to uni, where I could breastfeed during my study breaks. I will always be grateful for the support I received from the AIEF, and this is the reason I continue to support and raise awareness of the AIEF. I believe the program works – I am the proof, the first Indigenous female engineer to work at BHP.

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