Navy career combines with engineering study

Christchurch woman Francesca Hlavac thought you needed to know about “cars and stuff” before considering a degree in mechanical engineering.

“I was completely wrong.” she says. Today, as a sub lieutenant in the Royal New Zealand Navy, she works as an assistant marine engineering officer on attachment to Australian frigate HMAS Parramatta.

Tuesday (23 June) is International Women in Engineering Day, which celebrates the achievements of women engineers and aims to raise the profile of women in the field and the careers available.

Sub Lieutenant Hlavac, 23, loves problem-solving and was strong at maths and sciences at Christchurch Girls’ High School, but almost didn’t study mechanical engineering.

“I had the misconception that you had to have heaps of practical experience already and know about cars and stuff. I was intimidated by this idea because I thought that most guys doing the degree would already have this experience and I would be disadvantaged.”

Her advice to others is do the research and understand what the degree provides, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

“Through my degree I was given opportunities to learn the practical aspects of engineering, and there are many people, both male and female, who won’t have that experience already.

“A degree in mechanical engineering covers so much more than just engines. At Canterbury University there was a huge focus on engineering design and product design, which suited my interests as I had done graphic design at high school.”

She won the HMNZS Canterbury Scholarship in her first year of study, which paid for her fees that year. The scholarship offered a ride in HMNZS Canterbury from Auckland to Wellington, and on that trip she learned about university schemes on offer for Navy officers.

She joined the Royal New Zealand Navy Volunteer Reserve in 2016, with the Navy paying her course costs and a living allowance, and she received summer engineering work experience with the Navy. Following her degree, she spent 16 weeks in Auckland, training to become an officer.

She loves working for the Navy.

“It is very rewarding. A job in the Navy provides a huge variety of challenges, ones you wouldn’t get in a regular engineering job, but that’s part of what I love about it.

“The best part is the people I get to work with. It sounds cheesy but the Navy really is just a big family and some of my closest friends are my workmates.”

HMAS Parramatta is her first sea posting as a junior engineering officer.

“With both of New Zealand’s Anzac-class frigates undergoing upgrades in Canada, this posting has enabled me to gain experience on the same class of ship, which will be of great benefit when I return to New Zealand next year.”



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