Greatness has often been debated – how it looks, where it lives, how to make it, break it, shape it and berate it.


Greatness has graced our eyes on the screen in the most beautiful grandeur, and flirted with them longingly in books. It’s been loud and unquestionable, it has roared and it has demanded. But above all, greatness has subverted our expectations.

A lot can be said about greatness but it’s what isn’t that is the most harrowing tell of all. It happens after hours, and it often doesn’t squeak. It’s born through months of planning and countless hours of lost sleep. It’s moulded after failure and incites hunger at every turn. It’s created by those chip away at something good every day, for it to become better before it becomes great.

A lot too can be said about Maria Pantelidi. In the last four years, the RMIT student who moved from Greece to Melbourne to explore the world of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Now, alongside her teammates, they stand as only finalists from the Southern Hemisphere in Elon Musk’s SpaceX Hyperloop Pod competition. The competition saw, dozens of university teams from around the world will travel to Hawthorne, California to compete in a high-stakes contest to prove Elon Musk’s vision of super-fast, super-sustainable, tube-based transportation known as the Hyperloop. They are now building fully functional, three-fourth scale models of their pods to test on SpaceX’s one-mile track – set to be the fastest mode of transport we have seen.

Great doesn’t begin to cut it.

“Studying aerospace engineering at RMIT University, I was introduced to the project by three associates (now teammates) while volunteering for orientation day.  As they were describing the project to me all I could think of was, “how can I be involved and when can I start?”

Being in unfamiliar territory, the notion of venturing out of one’s comfort zone can seem daunting to say the least, but curiosity called Maria; it called her loudly and it called her often. And, as any true engineer, she answered, wanting to know what was on the other side. In her case, it just so happened to be in the Southern Hemisphere.

“Melbourne is one of the most multicultural cities around the world and studying here has made it easy to adjust. Ever since I was a little girl I loved planes and, generally, anything that flew. Growing up I discovered my interest in puzzle solving and mathematics while I noticed an extended curiosity on how things worked. So I found a way of combining both planes and engineering.”

As the stability subsystem lead on the project, Maria has also been heavily involved with the manufacturing of various components of the VicHyper pod. As the nuts and bolts began to fall into place, so did she.

Studying itself gave me a sense of belonging. I now belong in the engineering and effectively in the STEM world. University has undisputedly improved my English by a remarkable amount, so much that people no longer realise I was not born and raised in Australia. VicHyper has enabled me to expand my professional circle and make lifelong friends. Everyone in the team is accepting and understanding which has made me feel welcomed.”

Maria can be classified as a lot of things but she doesn’t put herself in a box and no one needn’t try. While women in STEM industries are still the minority, drawing attention to their lack of presence rather than encouraging it incites omission. But rather than chasing the difference, or calling for change, it’s the opportunist that sees the division of good from great. Not because they’re different but because they choose to see their disparity as a mechanism for change.

“We hope to encourage females to follow their dreams and aspirations without being intimidated by the idea of the industry they are interested in being male dominated. The support I have received from the university after the commencement of my degree is tremendous. It is obvious that forward-thinking universities, such as RMIT, are actively trying to motivate females to follow a career in STEM and support diversity in every form it may take.”

“Being involved with the VicHyper team has been a learning and by far the most rewarding experience I have ever had. Observing the team transforming from a university student team to a company in terms of professionalism has shown me what the real engineering world is going to be like. VicHyper is an interdisciplinary team that includes aerospace, electrical and mechatronics engineering as well as industrial design communications and graphic design. Being part of VicHyper has taught me that engineering itself is not sufficient for the successful completion of a project and that every other principal involved is essential for the smooth operation of the team and appropriate communication of mission and identity. Undeniably, learning how to effectively communicate with everyone in the team was challenging at times but it only produced a favourable outcome.”

“I want to innovate and the opportunities for innovation are endless. Emerging technologies to make the world a better place sounds like a good start.”

Fear of difference welcomes vulnerability. Segregation incites segregation. When we welcome the differences, the experiences and the work of others, we are capable of breaking convention, just as brilliantly as the ones played out for us on movie screens or bound within the pages of our books. And the result is anything but what we’d expect. Even better than good. Perhaps even great.


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Discussion — One Response

  • chilya 21 February, 2017 on 1:30 pm

    very nice inspiration for Indonesian students, what might be up in Indonesia?