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Life as a beauty queen engineer

Monday September 05, 2016 Written by Published in Local
Mechatronic Engineer Joyana Finch during her three months’ work at Shiga, Japan, earlier this year. 16081507 Mechatronic Engineer Joyana Finch during her three months’ work at Shiga, Japan, earlier this year. 16081507

Finch is a former Miss Cook Islands and Miss South Pacific who won the title in 2010. She is now a Mechatronic Engineer who recently spent three months at Shiga in Japan. She is the second Polynesian person to graduate with a mechatronics engineering degree at the University of Auckland, the first was a male.


Mechatronics is the combination of mechanical engineering, electronic engineering, computer engineering, software engineering, control engineering and systems design engineering. It is a multi-disciplinary field of engineering, which focuses on the design and manufacture of useful products and technology. What she loves about engineering is that it gives her opportunities to solve problems.

“I'm so fortunate to have been hired by a company who takes advantage of this aspect,” said Finch.

“They haven't hesitated throwing me in the deep end on numerous occasions, often having to sit down and decipher multiple manuals in whatever language, modify a programme that isn’t mine or try and fix or install a system that I had never seen before. 

“Lucky for me, logic is a universal language, if you love puzzles and you love to learn, trust me, you'll love being an engineer,” she said.

Finch added it’s very unusual having female engineers working in a male dominant field.

“Let’s just get this out there that being a female, full stop, raises eyebrows in the Engineering department. Being an island female, raises the eyebrows a little higher, but being a former Pacific Island beauty queen, female mechatronic engineer just about launches those eyebrows into blooming space,” she said. 

“I’m not going to lie, being a beauty queen Engineer is a very unique experience,” said Finch, “An experience I feel can be adequately described by my time at the university”.  Straight from Rarotonga to study Engineering at the University of Auckland, Finch had not yet learned how rare Engineering women were.  She said she was blessed with parents who encouraged her interests in Maths and Science with her teachers followed suit.

“I thought nothing of it, that was until my first day at the University of Auckland, naive as anything, I rocked up to the engineering building, strand of pearls on my neck, a colourful pareu as a scarf and a red hibiscus (the size of my face) in my hair bun, you know, because I wanted to look manea when I made new friends,” she said. 

She recalled that morning when the receptionist asked whether she was lost and pointed her to the direction of the Arts Faculty.  Then after a diagnostic calculus test, the lecturer took her aside and asked if she would consider moving to an easier course. 

“I guess the island get up didn’t help, but I did realise that I would have to work harder than most students in my class to earn my place there, it was not a good day and things stayed that way for the first few months,” she said.

“Having people find out that I was a past beauty queen was also a sensitive matter as I was already concerned about not being picked for a team project because I simply didn’t "look" smart enough, I was worried the fact that I was a past pageant winner would make matters worse. 

“That period of my life put me in a weird place between wanting to earn the respect of my peers or teachers and wanting to relax as the loud and proud islander I am,” she said.

Finch at first was unsure about who she was after a few days at tertiary level. She had never been confronted with such feelings growing up in Rarotonga, all she knew was that she liked Maths and Science and wanted to learn how to build gadgets. That was a given.

“Of course as the years went by, we had all earned each other’s respect in various tests and exams and I made some lifelong friends, had to beat their test scores a few times first though,” she laughed. “Once the walls were down, people delighted in the fact that I used to work the catwalk.”

Finch said you can’t help people's preconceptions and you shouldn’t hold it against them. People need to learn and know what they are good at and just go ahead and do it with joy.  As for her, the engineering content is all the same!

When asked what exactly does she do as an engineer and how challenging is it, she responded with joy.

“I have only just recently been made a SCADA engineer at my company.

“SCADA stands for Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition. That is basically a fancy shmancy way of calling a graphical user interface (GUI) that allows a client to interact with a plant or factory in real time.

“This role involves working very closely with Low Level Controls (LLC) Engineers and a lot of writing script.  Scripting is fun.  It was my favorite subject at uni.  In my opinion 'scripting basics' should be taught at primary school level, especially in this rapidly-intensifying technological world we live in,” she said. Finch added” “As a SCADA engineer you get more face time with clients as they often have their own desired custom functionalities and I have to figure out how to make that happen.  On the down side if things stop working for whatever reason, SCADA is the most visual point in the system so the SCADA engineer is right in the firing line.”

Prior to SCADA, she was a Low Level Controls (LLC) Engineer where her work revolved around dealing with the design and functionality of the physical system itself.  The programme uses little, but powerful, computers to control things like motors, pumps and doors and many other functions. She said PLC programming is very different from writing script, but logic is still employed.  LLC Engineers also plan the networks that will accommodate a myriad of sensors in the plant as well as produce all the required power calculations.

Women in the engineering field are growing all the time and the percentage of island women in engineering slowly grows too.

“Honestly, it is only really obvious when first meeting people in the field but the more experience I get, the more I forget that I am a woman and this is a man’s field. 

“It takes someone else on the outside to remind me, it has been an extraordinary experience dealing with m`en in a different culture.

“Here in Japan, these men have never seen or even conceptualised a female engineer before.  When I first showed up on site, they didnt know what to call me or even where to look when they did, they were super confused when I started giving them instructions, some of them pointed and laughed,” she said.

She agreed that it’s all very entertaining at the moment for her, but besides situations like her current one, she truly forgets that she is in any way different to her colleagues. 

“We bounce ideas off each other, we approach each other for advice and we even stress together and celebrate together.

It's a very enjoyable work environment, maybe I am blessed with much laid back men as my workmates, but I have a suspicion that it is like this in most work places,” she said.

            - Solomone Rabulu

Source: The Coconet TV


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  • Comment Link MAtt Cornell Tuesday, 07 January 2020 10:24 posted by MAtt Cornell

    This was a great read. Ms Finch is an inspiration to all of us, especially young women, wanting a job in an exciting, thinking environment. Engineering is a great business to be involved in. You'll always have a job!
    Matt Cornell
    Cornell Engineers

  • Comment Link Deanna Saturday, 07 October 2017 06:35 posted by Deanna

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I truly appreciate your efforts and I will bee waiting for your further write upps thank you once again.

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