[Article by Daniel Bugon]
In celebration of Women’s Month, the Faculty of Engineering reflects on the achievements of alumna Renette de Villiers who is making great strides in the traditionally male-dominated motorsport industry – and this in the unfamiliar and challenging climes of the UK!
De Villiers, who graduated with a BEng in Mechanical Engineering in 2013, works as a project engineer for engineering consultancy Performance Projects at Silverstone Park, a technology hub situated near the famous home of British motorsport, Silverstone Circuit.
“My position at Performance Projects is mainly design focused and we design parts and assemblies for the motorsport and agriculture industries. We don’t manufacture parts ourselves but in most cases we deliver fully built and tested assemblies to the customer involved. I take projects all the way from concept design to arranging procurement to project managing the manufacturing and build. I then liaise with customers and suppliers to make sure the products are delivered on time at a high standard,” she says.
De Villiers adds that she enjoys working for Performance Projects as it gives her the opportunity to be involved in every aspect of the business.
“I enjoy the fact that the company is very small. It gives me great exposure to what it takes to start and run a business. The directors face many challenges that don’t always directly affect me, but I am often part of the conversation.”
We address the elephant in the room. How does she find being a woman in the engineering industry?
She is remarkably candid in her response. “I think being a young woman in engineering has mostly been a positive experience for me, mainly because it makes me stand out. If there aren’t many people in the industry who look like you, people will remember you. There have, however, been instances where I felt like I needed to prove myself and my abilities and that I deserve to be there. But even though it can be frustrating, this has perhaps motivated me to find my place in the industry and show that I can get the job done too.”
She credits her alma mater for preparing her for the rigours of the engineering industry.
“The BEng degree at Stellenbosch is fantastic preparation for any engineering career. It is challenging, diverse and in-depth, and Stellenbosch equips its engineers with a wide range of knowledge coupled with a fantastic work ethic, “ she says.
De Villiers is also grateful for the opportunity to study for a MSc in Advanced Motorsport Engineering at Cranfield University in the UK in 2014.
“This was an incredible opportunity for me, as there aren’t any motorsport MSc courses available in South Africa as fas as I know. This has made a vast difference in my career as it wasn’t just an amazing course to study, but it also opened doors for me when my course director at Cranfield University recommended me for the position at Performance Projects. ”
The Stellenbosch native, who attended Eikestad Primary and completed matric at Bloemhof Girls’ High, says studying abroad was an important step in finding her own way in an entirely different environment.
“I was very lucky to be able to go to fantastic schools with great teachers and once I started my studies at Stellenbosch, I was very familiar with the area and what to expect. In many ways this is what motivated me to study an MSc abroad; I wanted to take myself out of my comfort zone. I will never regret taking that step.”
Although she is “very happy” working and living in the UK at the moment, De Villiers says she has not ruled out the possibility of applying her experience accrued in the UK to the South African engineering industry should a suitable opportunity arise in the future.
Photograph: In the driving seat: Former Faculty of Engineering student, Renette de Villiers, is making her presence felt in the UK motorsport industry.