Dr Kate Fox knows exactly why she gets up every morning.
The Senior Lecturer comes to work at RMIT’s School of Engineering every day to make a difference for children like her son Jake.
The 12-year-old was born with cerebral palsy and vision impairment.
Fox puts it simply: “as engineers, we have such power to make a difference to people around us”.
Fox’s desire to make a difference started long before Jake was born.
Growing up in a family of lawyers, Fox said she was the “black sheep” when she was interested in pursuing a career in engineering or medicine.
“I loved Marie Curie. I loved the tragedy of the story. She discovered radium and then she died of exposure to it,” she said.
Fox settled on biomedical engineering at university because she was interested in devices that would work inside the human body.
She had Jake as she finished her PhD in material science, specifically looking at the materials used in hip implants, before embarking on a career change.
A career in law beckoned and, hopefully with it, more work-life balance. Fox became a patent attorney in her home town of Adelaide, attracted to the prospect of seeing secret inventions before they became public.
But she missed the lab and law wasn’t so family-friendly after all.
At the same time, the Australian Bionic Eye Project had just been launched and it provided Fox with the opportunity to work on a project that would directly benefit Jake.
Fox moved to Melbourne and spent five years on the project before joining RMIT in 2014 as part of an initiative to recruit more female engineering lecturers.
It was her first foray into teaching and also fuelled her passion for science education, from lab tours and school visits to her flagship RMIT-Solve Disability Solutions initiative.
Under the initiative, teams of third-year biomedical engineering design students work with industry mentors and clients from Solve Disability Solutions to design and develop technology for people with disabilities.
Fox said she was “super proud” of the initiative, which has eight projects in the works.
“One guy wanted a pool cue to go to the pub with his wheelchair and play pool and another wanted an eye tracker to be able to open the door,” Fox said.
“The students are learning from experienced industry mentors, who are generally retired and volunteer their expertise, and we are making things based on people’s needs.
“We have got such cool toys at RMIT and can really make a difference to people’s lives with them.”
The initiative has seen Fox shortlisted in the Emerging Leader category at the Australian Financial Review higher education awards, which will be announced on 28 August.
RMIT School of Engineering Associate Professor Elena Pirogova nominated Fox for the award.
“Her interactive learning experience under the mentorship of industry partners created an opportunity for student teams to make an impact in the growing industry of biomedical and health care engineering,” Pirogova said.
“She is doing an amazing job promoting biomedical engineering at RMIT and being a wonderful ambassador for women in STEM.”
Fox said she’s humbled to be nominated.
“I have looked up the other nominees and they are so outstanding,” she said.
Fox is inspiring the next generation of women in STEM, from her students to her own nine-year-old daughter, Amelia, who won the 2017 Little Big Idea competition.
Amelia designed a wheelchair hoist to make it easier for her parents to lift Jake and won a week at NASA’s Florida space centre as the prize.
“She came up with it all by herself but she seems more interested in being a vet than an engineer,” Fox said.
“We have such an altruistic generation of young girls coming through and they are going to make such a difference to the world and it is our job as older women and ‘senior’ citizens to capture that and empower them.”
Story: Amelia Harris