best engineering degree

For Zimbabwean Yemurayi Choto, Deakin University’s BEng (Honours) Mechanical Engineering has been hands-on, industry-informed and future-focused. Always up for a challenge, she’s turning her penchant for problem-solving into creating innovative solutions for real-world engineering problems. She’s sharpening her English language skills and making the most of her time at a university ranked among the top 1% of universities worldwide. She’s working on team projects building roofs, robots and pedestrian crossings.

It’s a full, fulfilling schedule. On weekends, the charms of Geelong – Victoria’s second-largest city — and the dynamism of Melbourne beckon. There is plenty to see, do, and fill Choto’s YouTube channel, a hit as seen in its 23.6k subscribers.

For this episode of Extra Credit, Choto takes us on a special audio tour of her life, university and journey from a Math Olympiad in Zimbabwe to a STEM student living her best life in Geelong, Australia.

Listen below and wherever you get your podcasts:

The transcript below has been lightly edited for grammar, spelling and clarity.

Shekinah Kannan: Hello, listeners and welcome back to the Extra Credit podcast. For those of you joining us for the very first time, we are your passport to the diverse world of education and beyond. Every month we bring you compelling conversations with students, graduates and professionals highlighting the extraordinary journeys and insights gained from studying abroad. I’m your host, Shekinah Kannan. And today we’ll be deep diving into what it really means to study at one of the best universities in the world.

Ranked among the world’s top 1%, Deakin University is known for its innovative approach to education and its commitment to fostering future leaders in various disciplines. But today, we will be focusing specifically on its dedication to preparing tomorrow’s engineers for career success. Walking us through this will be Yemurayi Choto, a student from Zimbabwe whose passion for innovation knows no bounds.

Today, we’ll be delving into her experiences as an international student in Australia, exploring her academic journey, what she’s learned about engineering, and of course, her aspirations for the future. So without wasting any time, let’s jump right into it. Welcome Yemu. How are you today?

Yemurayi Choto: Hello, I’m doing good. Thank you. What an introduction. Thank you so much for having me. Honestly, I’m really honored to be here today and speaking with you.

Shekinah Kannan: Thank you so much for making the time to join us. I wanted to let you know that I had a chance to go through your YouTube page. And it was really nice to see someone so fired by their own journey and so passionate about helping other people follow in her footsteps. I think it’s really cool. And I’m excited to know more about what inspired you to make these guides and document your journey. So if we can take things back to the very beginning, what led you to choose Australia and Deakin University for your studies?

Yemurayi Choto: I think choosing Australia was mainly driven by the fact that I have family here, and more to that is that my sister actually studied her honours and her master’s in Australia. So having her tell me about how Australia is so good and all the exciting things about Australia, that definitely played a big role in me choosing the country that I wanted to go to. 

But if I’m going to be completely honest, it was between Canada and Australia. So, for the first half of my high school life, I had always wanted to go to Australia. Then, towards the end, I started leaning more towards Canada, and I even got into Canadian universities and even got scholarships there. I think I was pretty much settled in Canada. Then my sister said, “No, you should come here, it’s going to be so nice to have each other, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” Long story short, I ended up in Australia. 

So honestly, I do not regret my decision at all. I absolutely love it here and the weather, of course. I absolutely love the weather compared to Canada. 

In terms of choosing Deakin, when I was looking for a university, I had two main things that I was looking at. So one, it had to be very, very good for international students. I’m talking about the facilities and the resources that they have for international students. It also had to be one of the top universities for engineering. I wanted to make sure that I was getting the best facilities and the best resources. Deakin has some of the most advanced systems for engineering, some future-focused machines, and all of that for engineering. So I really wanted to get the most out of it. So Deakin came up on top, and I love it here.

Shekinah Kannan: Would you say the university met your expectations? Coming to a new country and you know, having to figure out how to make friends and stuff? Do you feel like you got the support that you needed?

Yemurayi Choto: I think they actually exceeded my expectations. I mean, obviously coming here, I was scared, am I going to fit in? Am I going to find people interested in what I like and so forth? But I think the more that I settled in, the more that I realised the joy that comes with being with people from different cultures because I feel like the international family at Deakin is so big, and I’m not even just talking about people from Zimbabwe, I’m talking from across the globe. So yeah, Deakin honestly offers some of the best resources and some of the best facilities. I think they even have a programme that is called the English Development Language, something like that? Where they basically have weekly Zoom meetings, if you’d like to improve your language, they offer some of the best safety resources as well. I mean, they have campus security officers, I think on patrol 24/7, they also really brought in that safety aspect as well, which is something that I was worried about being in a new country. 

Shekinah Kannan: Were there many immersion-type sessions that got students together and made them feel like a part of the community?

Yemurayi Choto: Where I live, I live on Deakin Res, so I live in the school accommodation. They have, I think, almost two or three events every single month, where they basically have people coming in, whether it’s doing a barbecue, or is just a morning coffee, or it’s a movie night, you know, those types of events, they really do bring people together, or even during orientation, they also have different clubs that you can join. So you are bound to meet someone from a different culture almost every single day.

Shekinah Kannan: Before we go into your experience and getting accustomed to new curricula and learning styles, it would be great to dive into a little bit more about what got you interested in engineering.

Yemurayi Choto: I think it actually took me a couple of years to figure out because one of the first questions that I got when I got into engineering was, “Why are you here? Like, why are you studying engineering?” And I didn’t have an answer. I was like, “Wait, why am I here?” So I think it took me a couple of years and a couple of tasks to actually realise what it is that got me into engineering. I think the two biggest things were innovation and I like a challenge. This is something that I picture myself doing every single day because I’m like, “Why do you like being challenged so much?” But honestly, I love being challenged. I love solving problems, and I love being innovative. I mean, when I was in high school, I think I was in Form Two, which is when you’re 14 years old back home, we participated in this competition where we basically had to create something sustainable. So a couple of my friends and I developed some sort of plastic where we basically cooked it, and then we allowed it to dry, and then we presented it. I was a part of clubs such as Maths Olympiad, which was basically a club for math, but you had to solve the problems without calculators. So little things like that showed me that I’ve always been interested in problem-solving. I’ve always been interested in being innovative, coming up with new concepts and so forth. So I think that is what drove me to study engineering.

Shekinah Kannan: Having to conduct a project with your classmates in your second year, was that the first time that hands-on experiential learning was introduced in classrooms?

Yemurayi Choto: Yes and no. I think that was the first time that we actually had something practical that we had to do. But pretty much from the get-go in the first year, you start to work in teams, you start to form groups, and so forth. I feel like engineering is primarily just based on teamwork. So, in a lot of teams, you’re given different tasks, and you have to work together to produce the final product. So second year was the first time that we had something practical. And that was probably one of the hardest units. I mean, it wasn’t really hard, but it was time-consuming and required a lot of critical thinking. So it was a lot, but it was interesting as well.

Shekinah Kannan: What would you say are some of the most interesting projects that you’ve worked on so far?

Yemurayi Choto: In the second year, that one was definitely one of the most interesting ones. We basically had to sew in teams of four to five, I think. It was a mixture of mechanical and mechatronics engineering students. So we had to build a robot to pick up balls and deposit them in a different area. So we literally had to come up with everything. I mean, the way that I was going to pick up the ball was we had to programme it so that it knows where to stop and when to stop. Why height that it is going to go up to and stuff. So yeah, that was really, really interesting.

Then, in my second semester of second year, we got to work on the footway, railway, and pedestrian crossing; I think we’re designing that pedestrian crossing. So it was really, really interesting to actually see something that we’re going to be using in real life and actually design it. It’s a little bit fulfilling because you’re like, “Okay, I can actually do this,” even though they really do provide the steps that you’re supposed to follow through for you to build it.

Currently, right now, in my third year, we’re working with an industry partner, which is Sykes rowing. So it is a rowing company that obviously provides rowing equipment and they also they’ve also worked with a bunch of different companies as well. So we’re currently working on the foot stretch arm, which is the part that the athlete attaches their feet to. They use that to drive off when they’re rowing. So it’s quite interesting, again, to work with something that can actually be used in real life. I mean, that is what engineering is about. 

Shekinah Kannan: The work that you guys are doing, is it on campus or do you find yourself venturing off campus as well?

Yemurayi Choto: It’s mainly on campus because we have to go to class and so forth. But we recently had one of the staff members from Sykes come to the university and just give us a brief of what the design challenge is. We’re actually going on a little trip on Friday this week, where we’re going to the Sykes company itself to actually see the different equipment that they have and just get more insights into what we’re actually designing. We’re also, I mean, allowed to go into other areas and also do some research. So you can actually go into rowing shops, and even just go to an actual rowing regatta and actually just see how pros do it. Because I mean, I think the best type of research is user research, where you actually see the people interacting with what it is actually designing. So it does allow us to go outside of class and actually do hands-on research.

Shekinah Kannan: Could you tell me a bit more about the tools that you’ve been working with or some that you think stand out to you?

Yemurayi Choto: I think the first thing that I’ll mention is the 3D printers, which is something that we’re actually learning more about right now. So Deakin has a number of 3D printers in the different labs: materials lab, there’s an electrical lab, and then there’s a mechatronics lab. So there are a number of tools like the 3D printer, we have the waterjet cutting machine, and we have a number of little soldering areas where you can solder your part. So yeah, we really do have a lot of tools. And there’s also a lot of material around that you can use. For the project that we did last year, we had a lot of rods and metal rods that we could use, and we had a lot of hard cardboard as well that we could use. So it’s really nice when all of those resources are nice and close to you so that it doesn’t feel like you have to go out of your way to get all of that stuff. So yeah, that’s really good.

Shekinah Kannan: I also know that Deakin offers many opportunities for its students to work directly alongside these businesses through practice units, internships, and work placements. Have you participated in any of those yet?

Yemurayi Choto: I haven’t actually completed my practice, but this is a unit that all engineering students at Deakin are required to complete before they can graduate. So usually, we complete this in our third year or fourth year, it’s optional. It’s basically a 12-week full-time professional practice or experience. You can break it up into six weeks of professional practice or six weeks of professional development. But the only thing is that it has to be from an approved organisation from the university. So the university definitely has to approve that first.

The reason why they put it in the third year or why they encouraged us to complete it at the end of the third year is because they want to reduce our workload in our final year. So, in the final year, you’re just focusing on the final projects and the final units that you need to complete your degree.

I haven’t completed mine yet, but I hope to do that very soon. I think some of the companies that I want to work with, or rather the industries that I’d want to get into, would be manufacturing. I’m really interested in the different processes that go into manufacturing products. So basically, the different processes that go into that, and also product development. So the whole thing of doing research and actually having customers coming to you and asking you to deliver something. So I think those are the main industries I hope to get into.

I know what I don’t want to get into and that is the automotive industry. I’ve never been a fan of cars, so I don’t think I’d be doing an internship for a car company, but I guess you never know. 

Shekinah Kannan:What is that process like? Do you work closely with your professors or faculty members to secure the specific internship that you want, or do they do the pairing? What’s that process like?

Yemurayi Choto: You can have one that you source by yourself. But Deakin, honestly, offers the best of all because I think almost every week, yes, almost every week, they send out an email list of possible employers that are currently looking for people to work for them. I mean, even if I don’t source one by myself, I’m pretty sure that if I approach Deakin, they would help me. And obviously, our professors are there to help as well. So even taking part in different projects, you never know who you’re going to impress. So it’s always good to take part in those things, and they could link you to a really good internship.

Shekinah Kannan: I’ve also read that many Deakin professors and educators are practitioners themselves, and they have extensive industry experience. Do you feel like that’s impacted your learning journey as well?

Yemurayi Choto: It definitely has, and not only that, but it is also very inspiring to actually interact with someone who’s been in the industry that you hope to get into. So they got a bachelor’s, they got their master’s, they got a PhD, they look really smart. But even besides that, just the fact that they’ve worked with all these different companies, it is really inspirational to see that coming to life. Also, they always tell us about their experiences with these companies, so it’s something that I look forward to in the future. 

Shekinah Kannan: Tell us a bit more about the area you’re most passionate about.

Yemurayi Choto: I’m doing mechanical engineering, as I said. It actually wasn’t my first choice, which is quite funny, because I think everything is worked out perfectly now. Initially, however, I wanted to get into biomedical engineering. Then I said, “No, let me do chemical engineering.” Then I thought, “No, let me do mechanical engineering.” So I’m really, really glad that that is the path that I chose.

Mechanical engineering is mainly focused on machines. So basically, building machines, building the right parts for them, choosing the correct materials for the machines, and so forth. I really love it because, again, it brings in that critical thinking aspect, where I really have to think is this material going to withstand the pressure that is going to be applied due to a certain load? So that is just one of the things that we do in mechanical engineering.

I think compared to the other types of engineering, it’s the one that I chose because I think, in my head, it’s one of the easier ones, but I don’t think that is still true. I think when I just did it initially, I was like, it’s one of the easier ones, but I don’t think that is true. But I think it’s the one I’m most interested in. I mean, looking at something like electrical engineering, I don’t think I would have done well in that field because I’ve just never been good at circuits and voltage and all of that stuff. 

Shekinah Kannan:Was this a decision that you had to make before joining Deakin or was there an exploratory phase where you got to sample a bit of everything before making a decision?

Yemurayi Choto: Personally, I chose mechanical engineering before joining Deakin. So when I got my offer, it was a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering. But in the first year, you do a lot of foundation classes, so you do a little bit of everything. I’m pretty sure I even did circuits in my first year.

I’m really grateful that Deakin has that flexibility, especially in the first trimester of your first year. So, I think luckily, I was very lucky because I was pretty set on mechanical engineering before I even chose Deakin. But in the first trimester all engineering students do the same units. So we’re doing the same thing, regardless of what field you will be in. So civil, mechatronics, electrical, mechanical, we’re all doing the same units. But then when we get into the second trimester, that’s when we start to focus on the units that are specialised for our chosen degrees. So 50% of the units that we do in the second trimester are the same, and then the other 50 are, where you actually get to choose and see what you’re going to be doing in the future. 

Shekinah Kannan:Have you uncovered any new passions or interests?

Yemurayi Choto: I really like talking. Which isn’t a thing that could be related to engineering. But one of the key skills that they tried to teach us is communication and presentations, and being able to fully articulate what you’re trying to build or what you’re trying to design. So I think I realised it’s not a passion for talking, but I actually enjoy explaining or inspiring other people to do certain things. I think that is also one of the reasons why I started my YouTube channel. I really enjoy that aspect of just presenting my ideas and talking to people, actually making them understand what I do, and so forth.

Shekinah Kannan: What has it been like, so far, being a female student in a traditionally male-dominated field?

Yemurayi Choto: It’s been really hard. I won’t lie or sugarcoat it. It has been hard. Just knowing that, I mean, right now, there’s only two of us. I’m currently in my third year, and there are only two of us in my engineering class. But also, these are only the on-campus students, I’m not too sure about the online students.

There are about 46 of us in the class, the great majority, it’s just boys. So it was really, really hard for me, especially for the first in my first year. Also knowing that I came from an all-girls school. So in high school, I went to an all-girls school. We did interact with boys, but obviously, it wasn’t as much as it is now. So coming from that and then getting into a class that is literally full of boys was a huge, huge adjustment for me.

Also, just the little jokes that the boys make from time to time, about females and engineering. You know, kind of giving the impression that you’re not supposed to be here, but you’re here so you have to deal with it. I’ve had to learn to stand up for myself and say, “You know what, that is not funny.” Because something that I’ve realised is that, when you make a joke about the minority in a room, it’s not funny anymore. If you’re the only type of person in that room, and someone jokes about that, it’s just not funny. So I’ve had to learn how to stand up for myself and say, “You know what, this is not funny. I don’t like the way that you are saying this.”

But then, at the same time, there have also been some pros to it because I’ve had to learn new skills that I think I never had to learn. For example, in my second year, we did a project where we had to build a robot, so we had to build it from scratch, and it had to pick up balls and deposit them in a different area. So I had never touched tools before. I mean, the most I had done was just use a screwdriver to change a screw and stuff. So I learned how to use a bunch of other tools, a hot glue gun, a different type of screwdriver, like there was a lot that I had to learn. So I had to take a step back and really say, “You know what you don’t know how to do this.” So I asked for help, and the boys really helped me. I think it’s safe to say that now I have really good friends in class. We all get along.

Shekinah Kannan: What really inspired you to make your content so focused on your academic journey?

Yemurayi Choto: I’ve always been the type of person who always prioritises my academics. I think I’ve always taken my books really, really seriously, and I think now that I filmed all of that, it really comes out that I really prioritise my education. I think coming to Australia, one of the videos that actually got the most views, I think right now it’s about just over 200,000 views was the whole transition into coming to Australia as an international student.

When I saw that people enjoyed that type of content, seeing me coming here, settling in, and stuff, I decided to focus on that. Not only because it brought views but also because it was inspirational. It is basically students who are back at home that are hoping to come here. So I’ve always shared my experiences. I think my brand is mainly focused on inspiring other students, especially young girls who want to get into STEM. I want to show them that it’s okay to step into the rooms that they are afraid to step into, and it’s okay to be a part of the conversations that they think they don’t have a say in. So I really do enjoy that, and I really do enjoy sharing my study routines because people always say that when they see someone else studying, they are inspired to study. So I’m like, “Okay, if this is going to work in someone’s favour for them to study, then let’s do it.” So yeah, I’ve always enjoyed that. 

Shekinah Kannan:Now that you’ve kind of formed a mini community of people who are very interested in what you’re experiencing in Australia as an engineering student, do you find that there are any common misconceptions that people have about being an engineering student or working in engineering?

Yemurayi Choto: I think, just two misconceptions, really. The first one is that people think we are super smart, and this is not to take away our intelligence. I’m not trying to say we’re not that smart. But I will give myself as an example. I’m an above-average student, in terms of being smart, like when we look at the spectrum. I like to believe that I’m above average. I’m not an average student. I’m just above average. However, I’m also not the smartest. What I’ve seen with my friends, or my peers is that whenever there’s a problem that involves calculations, and so forth, people always like ”Yemu, you’re the engineer solve this” and I’m like, “Okay, but what if I can’t.” So yeah, people think that we’re really, really smart but honestly, I think it’s more about the hard work that we put into it. I think, yes, you can be smart, but I feel like that only goes so far, you need to also put in the hard work into it. So I think it’s just the effort that we put into actually grasping the concepts and actually understanding what it is that we need to be designing. So I think that’s one of the biggest misconceptions.

The other one is that this is actually one that I recently found out as well. One of my lecturers said something, and I will forever quote him for this. He said, “I’m an engineer; I don’t need to touch tools.” So when I pictured an engineer, I always pictured someone working on the machine and someone building everything together. But I think just doing more engineering have come to realise that we do a lot of thinking behind the scenes we make up the design, we do the technical drawings, we do the 3D padding and stuff like that. So I mean, most of the time, I feel like you’re probably going to have a contractor on the ground, actually doing the stuff, but you are really just there to check, “Do they do it correctly? Does this align with what it’s supposed to do? Are there any mistakes? Is there any room for improvement?” So I think that’s also just one of the other misconceptions. 

Shekinah Kannan: Would you say that there’s a certain part of the process that you love the most?

Yemurayi Choto: I think that’s a hard one because I feel like the stuff that I love is the stuff that gives me headaches. So I’m like, it’s a love-hate relationship. So it’s almost like, “Do I really love you or am I just suffering?”

But I think it would have been the critical thinking aspect, where you are given challenging things to do, and you really have to assess what you’re doing. Many times you actually question yourself, and you say, “Is this really going to work out?” But once you go through the right steps to actually developing the stuff, you actually do realise that you’ve got that critical aspect, critical thinking aspect covered. So I think that’s just one of the parts of it that I really do enjoy.

Because I feel like it’s something that can be used everywhere like you in many cases, you have to think about something. So I think engineering has really brought out that part of me, and it has really developed it.

Shekinah Kannan: Based on everything you’ve experienced so far, do you have any specific professional plans for the future?

Yemurayi Choto: I think it took me the longest to actually realise this, but I think now, for a fact, I know that I want to work either in the manufacturing industry or the product development industry as I see it. I feel even more towards the product development industry because, as I said, I really do like that interaction part actually talking to people, because I think this will allow me to actually interact with people, interact with customers and actually go out of my way to say, “Okay, this is what you want, this is how we can do it.”

I’ve also recently learned that customers don’t always know what they want. So the more questions that you ask them, the more you realise that okay, they are actually leaning more towards this, even though they think that they want that. So, yeah, I think those are the top two that I would really want to get into. I’m also just hoping that I would bring in my content creation more into it, because one of my worst fears is that once I’m actually in the industry, I’m going to be neglecting my content creation.

I’m really hoping that I could still do that because I would really love a way to just merge the two, which I think is something that I’m currently doing. But I’m just not too sure how I’m going to do it. Once I actually do start working. Oh, yes, and I want to travel as well. So it’d be really nice to get one that allows me to travel.

Shekinah Kannan:If you could take us to the best of your ability, like on an audio tour around campus, that would be cool. Like describe it to us and tell us transport is there basically.

Yemurayi Choto: Okay, so there’s this one spot that is in the engineering building, it’s on the second level. I’ve recently started to really enjoy my time there. And I wonder why. But I think I like to put myself in a space where there are other people like me, if I can use that word.

So, engineering buildings, obviously, are important because everyone is struggling with their assignments every day. So it’s always nice to be in that type of environment, I really like that.

Another part that I like is the library on the second level, the one on campus, it has a really, really pretty view, absolutely love that part as well. Also, the Learning Hub is student-central. These are really, really nice, what it’s all light, where you can study and stuff, everyone is typing up on their laptop and stuff. So it’s really nice to just, you know, see other people studying as well. I think that’s what gets me going as well that we’re all just trying to actually get this degree.

So I absolutely love Res, and Res is the Deakin on-campus accommodation. So I started living on Res in the first year, and that’s when I decided to join it. I think it was a really fun experience for me because, obviously, I’m a new international student coming to Australia, and I really wanted to immerse myself in that whole world, getting to know other cultures and getting to know other people. So I really did enjoy that.

I also chose a living and learning environment, which is basically a house that has primarily or mainly engineering students. So that was really fun as well, just living with like-minded people and helping each other through assessments and all of that. I think the best thing about living on campus would be the events that they have, they have events almost every single month, if not every single month, that are open to the residents at Deakin, and you get there, you get to talk to people, you get to meet new people, and it’s really fun.

I think the other thing that I really like is that they have so many facilities on campus that you can use. So, for example, the laundry rooms and they also have a lot of study rooms. They have a really, really big common room with vending machines and a theatre room. So it’s really fun, and it really does make you feel like you’re at home because you’re nice and comfortable. I really do enjoy it.

Shekinah Kannan: How about life in Geelong?

Yemurayi Choto: I’d always say that Geelong, I think, was the perfect city for me to choose in terms of school because I’ve only started to appreciate this this year, but it’s quiet here, like really quiet here.

When I go to Melbourne, everyone is rushing, I don’t know where they are rushing, but everyone is rushing. There’s so much commotion. It’s just a really, really busy city.

But I really do love Geelong. When you go to the mall or something, I mean, people are walking with purpose, but it’s not like people are in a rush, you know. So I really love that aspect, especially with the Waterfront campus. I mean, we’re only three minutes away from the shopping centre. The train station is only, I think, a seven-minute drive from the Waterfront campus. We’re really close to some really, really nice Victorian tourist attractions, like the Great Ocean Road, and we have a tour for first-years as well.

I have been down there with my family when my mom visited. So it’s really just nice having all those places around. Even if you do want to go Melbourne it’s still really close. I think the trip from Geelong is only about 15 minutes. I think. So it’s really not far at all. So I think Geelong is, honestly, perfect, especially for schools.  

Shekinah Kannan: What are some of the things that you do to unwind?

Yemurayi Choto: So I think the first thing would probably be my content creation. It is a lot of work as well, but the difference between being a content creator and being an engineering student is so huge, and I absolutely love that. So I can kind of just unwind.

Another thing that I’m starting to get back into right now is running, which I used to do a lot when I was in high school, and then I had to stop because of an injury. But I’m starting to get back into it now, and I’ve really been enjoying that.

Obviously, I feel that every girl needs a little bit of retail therapy. So shopping is quite nice as well. Yeah, and just chilling with friends, hanging out, and all of that.