Australia's Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) has introduced a new scholarship program in a bid to attract more female students to the engineering field.

A trio of female undergraduates at the Australian National University (ANU) have become the first recipients of the new scholarships, which were established by DSTO in conjunction with the ANU, the University of New South Wales and the University of Adelaide.

DSTO plans to award scholarships to four female students at each of the three tertiary institutions participating in the new program. The three inaugural recipients at the ANU are Joyce Mau, Molly Thomas and Katrina Kelleher, all of whom are undergraduates currently majoring in engineering.

Joyce, Molly and Katrina.

Joyce, Molly and Katrina.

To qualify for the scholarships, applicants must be enrolled in designated undergraduate programs and the majority of their courses must be in STEM subjects.

Recipients will be chosen on the basis of their academic results from Year 12 or during their time as undergraduates, while weight will also be given to intangibles such as community leadership roles, extra-curricular activities and interest in a defence-related career.

Under the scholarship, recipients will receive financial support throughout the course of a four year full-time degree – estimated to be worth as much as $40,000.

The scholarships will also offer winners invaluable access to mentoring by scientists from DSTO and provide them the opportunity to work at the organization during the summer vacation. During their final year, recipients will have the opportunity to engage in an undergraduate project which is related to DSTO under the joint supervision of some of its scientists.

DSTO hopes the new scholarships will help to address the prevailing lack of women in the sciences and engineering and plans to include other Australian universities the program in future.

“DSTO is a major employer of staff with science and engineering qualifications, but there is a large gap between the numbers of males and females studying these disciplines at university,” said chief defence scientist Dr. Alex Zelinsky. “This initiative aims to narrow that gap and potentially provide a larger recruitment base for DSTO in the future.”

Women continue to be severely underrepresented in the engineering profession in Australia, starting from the very outset of training and education. According to a report released by Engineers Australia in May of 2012, women comprise only 14 per cent of acceptance of places in university engineering courses, while bachelor degree commencements by women fell throughout the course of last decade.