An entrepreneurial chartered civil engineer who advocates for gender equality has been named the winner of this year’s Griffith QBM MBA Responsible Leadership competition.

Coming from Rockhampton, Jessica Kahl realised in her first year of an engineering degree that just like she had been, many regional high school students were unaware of the opportunities engineering and other STEAM disciplines offered, and started her own not-for-profit to empower young women.

As well as managing Dream Big Australia, Jessica also works at SunWater in corporate development and said she was incredibly excited to learn she’d won the full scholarship.

“I’m very grateful for the opportunity to grow my knowledge and understanding,” she said.

“I think the MBA is going to be a very valuable experience especially so I can take that learning back to my job to continue to deliver water prosperity to Queensland communities but also to Dream Big Australia and our initiatives that we run for young people in providing career resources.”

Dream Big Australia started small, but Jess is aiming high.

Jessica Kahl works in corporate development for Sunwater while also running not-for-profit Dream Big Australia

“When I got to uni there was a lot of bias, and a real lack of diversity, so I faced a lot of challenges as a female in a regional area going into engineering.

“I would go out to schools and talk to them about what I was doing in my first year at university and there was a lot of interest from girls in regional areas around why it wasn’t promoted more as a career.

“You get to combine your teamwork and collaborative skills in a way that makes you a problem solver for society.

“I thought that it was important to young females in regional Queensland to be aware of the rewarding opportunities in engineering and beyond,so I thought okay, lets run an event in Rockhampton for young girls.

“After raising capital to run a ‘dream big event’, we had some industry professionals that came in and spoke on a panel about their experiences and how they have carved out their careers and it went really well.

“It was from this event that we started growing, so for the last 5 years we have engaged over 400 students across Queensland in 26 events and we’ve provided helpful information and resources to young people looking at pursuing those careers.”

Her success in advancing gender equality has been recognised in her 2021 Young Australian of the Year shortlisted nomination, in Engineers Australia’s ‘100 engineers making a difference’ profile and as a keynote presenter at the World Engineers Convention.

Jessica is looking forward to starting her MBA at Griffith Business School at the start of 2021 but will continue to lead Dream Big Australia as it launches a new program of events for next year and consolidates its Careers podcast called STEAM Ahead, which was an innovation borne of the pandemic.

runner up and partial Scholarship winner Daniel de Vries

Partial scholarship winner Daniel de Vries is excited to share MBA learnings with a new group of contemporaries.

“My career has been wholly and solely in defence aerospace which is cool because I am a tech head and I love gadgets and toys and technology but it isn’t always aligned with my philosophical take on life,” he said.

“I am really excited to talk to people that are not an echo chamber… I sit around people that are in tech and aviation all the time and that’s all we talk about.

“In the short term the MBA is certainly a door-opener internally within my business, where not all of the people on the executive team have an MBA.

“I see it as a differentiator”

“In the longer term it represents a pivot out of the industry, eventually. I’m quite interested in a few different fields but potentially big tech, amazon, google, facebook, or even someone like Telstra who are actually quite innovative in that realm as well, and or potentially fintech or management consultancy, in the long term.”

Currently in a managerial role with a global leader in training for the civil aviation, defence and security, and healthcare markets, de Vries started looking at MBA opportunities last year but sprang into action when he learned of the QBM MBA Scholarship competition.

Daniel De VriesHe said his interactions with Griffith during the application process, which included attending a masterclass, writing an essay and producing a video presentation about himself, had exceeded expectations.

“The mini masterclass that we did was a better taste of what is involved rather than just hearing about the program,” he said.

“I found that to be far more engaging than just sitting down and being told about it.”

The 2020 Queensland Business Monthly Griffith MBA Responsible Leadership Scholarships competition offered a full scholarship worth about $54,000 and a half-scholarship as part of the $130,000 prize pool.

Associate Professor Stephanie Schleimer

MBA Director Associate Professor Stephanie Schleimer said the quality of applicants this year was exceptional and the process of awarding the scholarships a fascinating opportunity to meet and hear from a new group of passionate professionals.

“Value-based leadership has never been more important than right now,” Associate Professor Schleimer said.

“The coronavirus pandemic has given society a timely warning about our sustainability and a renewed awaking about the fragile eco-system of our planet.

“There will be important shared learnings for our scholarship winners and the Griffith Business School MBA program through this partnership.

“I expect Jessica and Daniel will bring as much to Griffith Business School and our MBA program as we might be able to impart to them.

“We have strong ongoing relationships with all our MBA alumni and this growing network of collaborative professionals are an inspiring force for good.”

There were four other finalists in the competition this year; Briony Low, Cameron Taylor, Jaimi Webster and Ronan Clinton. Each receive scholarships to the value of three Griffith MBA courses.