Of sand and soil

As a young girl, Dr Ana Heitor loved playing in the sand, digging and tunnelling and building, so her choice of career came as no surprise to those around her. It worried her mother, though, who had concerns about the male-dominated field her daughter was entering into: geotechnical engineering.

Heitor Tall

Yet these misgivings could not counter the passion that had been encouraged in Heitor by her father, also an engineer, who instilled an understanding of how engineering can make a difference to society.

Heitor is already demonstrating her commitment to "contribute to the betterment of the world”, accomplishing much in her relatively short teaching and research career.

 She has masterminded the development of a new subject – Fundamentals of Construction Management – collaborating with Engineers Australia to create a course that meets the need of industry for job-ready graduates and provides a rewarding learning experience for students. For her efforts she was recognised by the Faculty of Engineering and Information Sciences, and with an Australian College of Educators Award.

In an effort to grow her academic contribution to the field, Heitor is optimising the time she spends on research and increasingly seeing her name published in a number of well-regarded academic journals.

In the real world, findings from her research – which includes the development of an innovative, non-destructive testing method for evaluating the compaction efficiency of reclamation fills – have been implemented at Penrith Lakes among other field sites. She manages consultancy work for external organisations requiring technical assistance, as well as prepares submissions to Australian standard technical committees.

Against this backdrop of achievement, it may be imagined that the gender imbalance in engineering is proving no barrier to Heitor. She is keen to underscore the support of her male colleagues.

But having seen a number of women engineers drop out of the workforce mainly due to family responsibilities throughout her career, she is compelled to advocate for her gender. 

“My father always told me that where there’s a will, there’s a way. So I’ll continue to convey to male colleagues the advantages of having a stronger female presence at the workplace, encourage the hiring of female graduates, and keep trying to provide inspiration to young female students.”