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Kate de Ridder

Squadron Leader Kate de Ridder is an Aeronautical Engineer for the Royal New Zealand Air Force, based in Auckland.

kate de ridder in Antartica What do you do on an average day?
My current role sees me manage development and enhancement of the mission system for the NZ Air Force’s Maritime Surveillance aircraft. The Orion Aircraft patrol the oceans looking for everything from missing aircraft, yachts, illegal fishing boats or hostile forces as well as recording important information on disaster damage. Each day I work with software developers, aircrew and other engineers to manage introduction of new software and hardware improvements to airborne mission systems and the ground support systems.

What did you study at school? And after high school?
I studied Japanese, International Relations, English, Physics and Calculus in year 13. After school I studied the intermediate year of Engineering at Victoria University. At the end of the first year I applied to the Air Force and they paid for the rest of my Bachelor of Engineering with Honours at the University of Canterbury. Since then I’ve done a lot of sponsored study through the Air Force including a Masters of Science in Aerospace Vehicle Design in the UK.

Was your study directly related to what you do now?
Yeah nah…. my undergrad study was all mostly theoretical and so I really just learned how to learn. My Post Graduate studies have been more applied and therefore directly useful at work. But mostly I’ve learnt on the job. 

What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now?
Have confidence in yourself and aim high! Don’t pigeon-hole yourself, even if you feel you don’t fit the mold, all types of people add value in STEM. If you don’t have the pre-requisite studies, then you can do bridging courses. I had to do a summer chemistry paper to get into the first year of Engineering. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!!

I actually always wanted to be a fashion designer at high school, and I only chose engineering because I read somewhere that if you are good with patterns maybe you should apply for engineering. Random, but it worked out. Of course I’ll never know how my life would have been, but I’m pretty pleased with the path I’m on. 

I’m not a planner, more of an opportunist, so I’m in the right place in the engineering world, I’ve had a lot of amazing opportunities. I constantly meet other women in engineering doing cool things too. One of my friends recently got a job launching satellites in the USA. I have engineering friends who do everything from designing medical equipment, working on America’s Cup hull design to maintaining hydro dam power generation. My brothers are both engineers too.  One is helping rebuild Christchurch, the other works in the Middle East on major construction projects.

What are some of your career/study highlights so far?

  • Helping with Antarctic Operations out of Christchurch which took me to Antarctica to drop off scientists and their equipment a couple of times.
  • Leading an audit of the maintenance division of the Air Transport Wing in Papua New Guinea to help them prepare for elections. 
  • Helping prepare aircraft for aid drops and deployment to areas affected by natural disaster to evacuate residents.  
  • Presenting my thesis in the UK on pollution reduction through automated air traffic management which allows for more optimised flight paths.

Why do you believe engaging in STEM – whether it’s working in the field, studying it or just educating one’s self around the issues – is important to New Zealand?
I like to think I can help people with the work that I do, and STEM is an enabler for that. I feel like New Zealand would be in a stronger position if more people were working in STEM and helping to find solutions to things like our over-reliance on fossil fuels, finding greener ways to farm and making health care cheaper and more accessible with technology.

Why is it important to have more women working in STEM?
Women are 50% of the population, and it’s a shame if all that brain power and diversity of perspective is not in the STEM work force making a real difference!!!

Squadron Leader Kate de Ridder is an Aeronautical Engineer for the Royal New Zealand Air Force, based in Auckland.

This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM. 
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