Engineering trailblazer and philanthropy advocate: Laura Poole-Warren

20 Jun 2024
Biomedical Engineering Professor Laura Poole-Warren

A life spent doing what she loves inspired Laura to give back and help break down the barriers to education.

Growing up on the NSW south coast, Biomedical Engineering Professor Laura Poole-Warren had an idyllic childhood in a close-knit family of eight. Weekends were spent swimming, snorkelling, surfing and sailing in the pristine waters of Jervis Bay with her five brothers and sisters. 

“We were a mad family,” she says with a laugh.  

Young Laura had ambitions to be a marine biologist, so she enrolled in an undergraduate oceanography degree at UNSW. The shift into Biomedical Engineering came by chance. 

“I became interested in the ‘biofouling’ of boats – when boats get all this stuff stuck on the bottom. At my honours seminar, I recognised a customer from the UNSW squash courts where I worked. It turned out he was a Biomedical Engineering professor. He came up to me afterwards and said, ‘We’re actually looking for someone to do work on biofilm formation in medical devices.’ That’s how I ended up doing my PhD at UNSW in Biomedical Engineering.”

Over a career spanning three decades, Laura has worked in industry in the United States and held numerous leadership roles at UNSW, including Dean of Graduate Research and Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research Training). She was also the inaugural Chair of the Athena SWAN program to redress gender inequities in STEMM degrees, and architect of the UNSW Scientia Program, which supports early to mid-career research academics. 

“I’ve been incredibly lucky that I’m in a career where I have this capacity to act in different areas. I’ve always done things that I’m passionate about and that I like doing,” she says. 

In 2020, she was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for service to Biomedical Engineering and education. “That was a wonderful surprise,” she says. “I didn’t find out until I got a letter telling me about the award and inviting me to the ceremony.”

Giving back through Workplace Giving

Since 2017, Laura has been regularly donating to UNSW through the Workplace Giving Program

“Once my kids finished school, I started to reflect on the fact that I was part of a very fortunate group who had come up through the ranks,” she says. “As a member of the University leadership, we are very privileged – we are remunerated very well. And I think we have an obligation to be a role model in this area,” she says.

Laura’s philanthropy is driven by a desire to “help people help themselves”. Education is a core part of that. The two initiatives she supports – UNSW Gateway and Nura Gili – reflect her passion for breaking down barriers. “If you can give people access to education and a really good experience – which you can do at UNSW – then you’re just opening so many doors.”

The Gateway Program offers an admission pathway to UNSW for students in Years 10­–12 from communities underrepresented in higher education. 

“We invited the schoolkids in this program to judge the 3 Minute Thesis competition. You could just see that they were learning so much… They were thinking, ‘Oh, this is something I could do.’”

Laura’s decision to support Nura Gili – the home for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students on campus – was “a no-brainer”. 

“Growing up, I had school friends from the Wreck Bay Indigenous community. They were up against real challenges in terms of staying at school beyond Year 9 or 10. So programs that allow people to maintain their culture while also achieving an education are so important. Nura Gili is great at that.”

Although she has stepped back from her leadership roles at the University, Laura’s commitment to empowering others endures. 

“If you’ve got a passion and you want to help people achieve something, you give,” she says.

“You can give in so many ways, and I’m also thinking about giving to UNSW in my will.

“Even a fairly small amount can make a difference. I encourage people to think about it.”

What makes you happy?

Being in the outdoors. My husband and I spend a lot of time in the Blue Mountains, hiking and sleeping out there. It rejuvenates me.

What’s something about you that might surprise your colleagues?

I’m a closet introvert. I tend to hide it; most people see me as an extrovert.

What’s the best thing you’ve read in the past year?

I am currently immersed in the novel Butter by Asako Yuzuki. We spend a lot of time in Japan and this book has given me incredible insights into Japanese culture.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

It’s not the best advice, but probably the most hilarious. My father said: “You’re going to have a career, Laura. But you probably won’t get married, because you can only do one or the other.” Maybe it was reverse psychology on his part, because I ended up doing both!

As a UNSW staff donor, you can have a real impact on the causes you’re passionate about through the Workplace Giving Program. The University will match your donations dollar for dollar. Sign up here: Donate | Workplace Giving (

Leave a lasting gift by making UNSW a beneficiary in your will. For more information, contact or +61 478 492 032.