“An amazing opportunity for me to share my route into engineering”

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Women Like Me participant and graduate engineer at Peter Brett Associates Rachel Kirkwood tells us about her very successful online presentation for the Leaders Award in this guest post.

On Thursday 17th January I spoke to almost 2,000 primary and secondary school children across the nation about all things engineering via a live online video call. This was part of the Leaders Award scheme which provides children with the opportunity to hear from engineers from a variety of backgrounds and industries, prompting the children to answer the question “If you were an engineer, what would you do?”. This was an amazing opportunity for me to share my route into engineering and details of my current career as a Transport Planner at Peter Brett Associates. Importantly, it also provided an insight into who I am in a quest to challenge perceptions of what an engineer looks like or the sort of person they might be. My presentation initially covered the sorts of things I learnt during my Civil Engineering degree at university which were broad and varied, demonstrating the many applications of engineering. I included a photo, as below, of my dissertation project work as evidence that the subject can be hands-on and put you in interesting (read: cold and wet) situations!

I then spoke about my current role as a Transport Planner, and what on earth Transport Planning actually is. I didn’t know the answer to that myself until only a few years ago so it is brilliant to know that children these days are getting the opportunity to find out about real careers so early on. My presentation covered issues such as reducing levels of traffic congestion, improving people’s mental and physical health, sustainability, and the future of transport.

The presentation lasted 15 minutes and was followed by 45 minutes of Q&A; this was admittedly a daunting prospect at first but was actually good fun. The questions covered areas such as what you need to study at school to become an engineer, my favourite part of my job, my best invention, and my interests outside of work. I had to politely skip over the requests for me to sing to them after I mentioned that was one of my hobbies! It was amazing to know that they had all found my presentation interesting and were keen to learn more. I was also very impressed with the relevance and quality of (most of) the questions being asked.

Details of the Leaders Award project and the opportunity to sign up to present were provided to me by the wonderful team at UWE who are running the Women Like Me initiative that I am also participating in. Women Like Me aims to increase awareness of the purpose and importance of outreach and public engagement within science and engineering with the goal of getting more people, particularly women, into engineering. It does this by guiding and encouraging a group of junior female engineers in the South West to actively participate in STEM outreach and activities. The scheme also provides junior engineers with mentoring from a more senior engineer to aid with their progression in the industry. I signed up to Women Like Me as I am incredibly passionate about widening participation in STEM, changing public perceptions of engineering, and ensuring that children don’t have to wait until they’re in their 20s to discover that engineering is a real career option like I did!

I thoroughly enjoyed my Leaders Award experience and my presentation was apparently so successful that I have been asked to deliver it again next month. I would thoroughly encourage anyone else to sign up and share your engineering story. It is not only rewarding but also a great opportunity to develop your communication and presentation skills. If you would like any more details, you can visit the Leaders Award website at https://leadersaward.com/.

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