In summary

  • Umanga Wijewardena is the winner of Swinburne’s university medal for ‘Most Outstanding Undergraduate Student in Science, Engineering and Technology’
  • During her Bachelor of Engineering (Honours), Umanga undertook an in-depth final year research project and industry-based placement
  • Umanga is enjoying being a graduate engineer for Rail Projects Victoria and encourages other Women in STEM to speak up for themselves

Umanga Wijewardena, who was named ‘Most Outstanding Undergraduate Student in Science, Engineering and Technology’ at Swinburne’s graduation ceremony in March, has gone on to land a graduate engineer role with Rail Projects Victoria.

Umanga graduated from the Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) with a major in Robotics and Mechatronics and says that ‘not a day went by without learning something new and exciting'.

During her time at Swinburne, Umanga took part in lectures, tutorials, one-on-one sessions, volunteering, club committees, final year research projects and an industry-based placement.

Hard work pays off

As part of her course, Umanga completed a 12-month paid placement at Metro Trains Melbourne which she says opened her up to 'so many opportunities', including her new role as a graduate engineer with Rail Projects Victoria.

Currently working with the Rail Infrastructure Alliance, she spends her days in the signalling delivery team, focussed on the Eastern and Western Portals of the Metro Tunnel, as well as assisting the project managers and site engineers with a range of tasks. 

As a graduate engineer with Rail Projects Victoria, Umanga works in the signalling delivery team and assists the project managers and site engineers

Learning the field

In her final year, Umanga was on the 2020 committee of Swinburne Aerospace and Space Society (SASS). She also volunteered as a science peer mentor at the Spark Engineering Camp in 2017 and In2Science in 2018. She shared her passion in the hopes of encouraging high school students to pursue science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) for their tertiary education.

For her final year research project, Umanga was part of a team who worked on the sustainability of intelligent transport systems. This involved assessing the sustainability of automated speed cameras and automated passenger information systems.

Umanga says it is a privilege to have won ‘Most Outstanding Undergraduate Student in Science, Engineering and Technology’, and was very shocked when she found out.

‘I was on a tram with my boyfriend when I read the email. I couldn’t believe it! I quickly sent it to my family and then read the email three or four times again. We were already going out for dinner, so we turned it into a celebration dinner!’

Swinburne Associate Professor of Road and Transport Engineering, Dr Rayya Hassan, was Umanga’s final year project supervisor and says Umanga deserves the recognition she has received for her academic achievements and demonstration of Swinburne values.

Umanga was an ‘excellent, very smart and hard-working student’, she says. ‘I am very happy and proud that Umanga has won this prestigious award as it is well deserved and more. I wish all the best in her career.’

Future inspiration

Umanga would like to continue her work in rail going forward and is interested in projects like the Metro Tunnel and Melbourne Airport Rail Link. ‘I would feel lucky to contribute as an engineer to the betterment of Victoria’s public transport system,’ she says.

Umanga gives thanks to her family, friends, lecturers and tutors who ‘helped her along the way’. ‘They’ve been amazing,’ she says.

Being a woman in STEM has its ups and downs according to Umanga, who is often the only woman in the room, whether at university or now in the workplace.

‘There have been many times where I have not been taken seriously or simply dismissed solely because I’m the only woman in the room. I’ve also been called ‘dear’ and a few other gender insensitive terms which people wouldn’t normally use with my male colleagues.’

Umanga hopes other women in STEM can be confident in themselves and speak up if they are not being treated as equals.

‘Express yourself! Express your ideas even if you think it’s not good enough.’

Related articles