Former hairdresser realising her engineering dreams with scholarship

Published 8 August 2018
Rising Stars Gaynor Palmer Gaynor Palmer with Southern Cross Vice Chancellor Professor Adam Shoemaker (left) and Steve McGrath, General Manager, Coffs Harbour City Council at the Rising Stars Scholarships presentation.

Southern Cross University and its donor partners have been providing financial support to students to complete their degrees for more than 16 years through the Rising Stars Scholarships program.

For Gaynor Palmer, it’s the perfect pathway to realise her dream of becoming an engineer, especially with the additional work placement offered by her donor Coffs Harbour City Council.

“Engineering was always something I was keen to do. I had tried to get into it straight from high school and an engineering business took me on for a year before they went bust,” said Gaynor who grew up near Taree on the mid north coast.

After that she found it impossible to get back into the industry and moved to Sydney to pursue her other passion, hairdressing.

“Back in those days it was always the guys that got the engineering jobs,” Gaynor said. “I knew the guys because I’d gone to school with them so I knew my marks were better than theirs. Women were automatically rejected on the basis that they were women. That put me off for a long time. Nowadays those sorts of attitudes have changed.”

Gaynor persisted with her engineering dream in Sydney. By day she cut people’s hair and at night she studied structural engineering at TAFE. Eventually was accepted into a university in Sydney but “at the time the cost of living was too high so I didn’t enrol”.

Years later she has returned to the North Coast, settling in Lismore, and now is in the second year of the Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) in Civil Engineering.

Gaynor said being awarded the Coffs Harbour City Council Engineering Scholarship, with its financial support and regular work placement opportunities in the road construction division, has made a world of difference.

“I didn’t realise how much the worry about being a woman in the industry had on me until I received the scholarship. At that moment I realised if I just stick with the degree and follow this plan then I have a shot at a permanent job at the end. It was good to let a few of my fears go. I feel lighter and more confident.

“With all the roadworks projects across the mid north and north coasts, there are lots of projects that the Council takes on that I can be involved in.”

Mayor Cr Denise Knight said Coffs Harbour City Council was excited to offer Gaynor one of three scholarships.

“Gaynor is an exceptional candidate. At a time where there is an increasing emphasis on encouraging and supporting women to embrace non-traditional trade and STEM roles she is a shining example of what can be achieved by young women if they put their mind to it.”

Gaynor said the degree was opening her eyes to the possibilities within the construction industry.

“I’d like to make the world a more sustainable place. I would love to make road base sexy. I want to get people talking about it and researching it to create a new system that doesn’t take so many resources out of the earth, yet can be flexible so that if you want to change a road you can move some part of it.

“It might sound far-fetched but think about it: you put down tar, it gets destroyed by wear-and-tear, then it’s replaced over and over again. It seems so stupid we can’t come up with something better in this day and age.”

Southern Cross University Pro Vice Chancellor of Engagement Ben Roche said the Rising Stars Scholarships program had reached a significant milestone this year.

“We’ve raised $3 million since 2002. This achievement was made possible by the generosity and commitment of our donor community. Our core values unite us around a shared vision, which is anchored in the need to provide students with the opportunity to achieve their potential.

“As a family with a shared vision for change, we can truly make a difference, just like Gaynor, one student at a time.”         

The 2018 round of Rising Stars Scholarships supports 66 new and continuing students across the University’s campuses.

For more information or to become a supporter of the Rising Stars Scholarships program, visit

Media contact: Sharlene King 0429 661 349 or