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Dawn Bonfield: oration

Read Dr Marion Harney's oration on Dawn Bonfield for the honorary degree of Doctor of Engineering in December 2019.


Dawn Bonfield
Dawn Bonfield

Pro-Chancellor, Dawn Bonfield has developed a national reputation as an inspirational leader in promoting and championing diversity and inclusion in university curricula, the engineering profession, and the workplace. In 2019 Dawn was ranked 2nd in the 100 Most Influential Women in the Engineering Sector by the Financial Times, and her work is recognised through an array of awards including an MBE in 2016 for her extraordinary contribution to diversity and inclusion in engineering and her Honorary Fellowship of the Institution of Structural Engineers in 2017.

As Professor of Inclusive Engineering at Aston University and Director of Engineering Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, the first Royal Academy of Engineering Visiting Professor, she is an influential advocate for change in the engineering sector. Establishing a new form of engineering, ‘Inclusive Engineering’, a new way to bring talent into the sector, focused on ensuring the outcomes of engineering work for all, fairly and inclusively.

Dawn achieved a first class honours degree in Materials Science at the University of Bath in 1987, the only one on her course to do so. She played volleyball and netball, achieving a full blue for her representation on the Welsh Volleyball team and participation in national university events. Here too she met her future husband, Peter. She remains involved with the University, having given the 2017 Biennial University Lecture on ‘Inclusion in Engineering’ and serving on University Court. Following her career in nuclear power, with Citroen and in aerospace, Dawn brought the Women’s Engineering Society back from the brink in 2014, becoming its President in 2016. Such was her success as President, the society employed her as CEO - the first time this had happened on concluding a term as President since the 1950’s.

While at WES she founded International Women in Engineering Day, an annual UNESCO-sponsored awareness event that reaches millions of girls and young women in the UK and around the world.

Dawn is unrelenting in giving her time, energy, creativity and vision to the engineering sector, making a major impact in fighting the inherent prejudices, injustices, microinequalities and lack of progression faced by under-represented groups. Founder and Director of ‘Towards Vision’, she provides insight into what might be possible if diversity and inclusion were embedded in every aspect of engineering. She also leads a project called ‘Magnificent Women’, which celebrates women in engineering history and delivers outreach work in schools, as well as other initiatives.

Dawn’s influential report ‘Disruptive Diversity’, commissioned by the President of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 2015, is transforming the way in which the Institution embraces diversity and inclusion.

Her recent work for the UK Government is on the engineering curriculum for T levels. This is a new wave of Technical Education that brings classroom learning and an extended industry placement together on courses designed with businesses and employers, and will help bring equality and inclusion to the way young people learn about engineering in the future.

The Faculty of Engineering and Design has a long-established WES Group and has achieved two Silver and two Bronze Athena SWAN Awards across its four departments. The conferment of this Honorary Degree further signals our commitment to diversity and inclusion in engineering and I am sure that Dawn’s passionate belief in her pioneering work will be strengthened by our recognition of her outstanding contribution to the profession of engineering and the education of future engineers. It is appropriate that the University celebrates its success through the work of our graduates, and Dawn - an inspirational role model for us all - is among the most distinguished.

Pro-Chancellor, I present Dawn Bonfield MBE as eminently worthy to receive the degree of Doctor of Engineering, honoris causa.


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