Women in Engineering Mentoring & Outreach Programme – get involved now!

Posted on

‘Women Like Me’ is a peer mentoring and outreach project in the Bristol and Bath area aimed at boosting female representation at all levels in engineering. Senior women engineers are paired with junior women engineers and their mentoring journeys supported through various events. At the same time training and opportunities are provided for junior engineers to undertake engineering education outreach in local schools. 

The programme has run with great success since 2018, and for 2023 we’re excited to be adding a new element to our mentoring support package! 

In addition to our face-to-face networking and training events, this year we will be providing online mentoring support. Alexandra Knight, an award-winning engineer and presenter, who empowers women in STEM to be confident visible role models through her company STEMazing, will be heading up these online sessions, with particular emphasis on developing our Senior Engineers’ mentoring skills. 

Who can take part?

If you have 5 years (or more) experience working in engineering – you’re a Senior Woman Engineer! – please sign up to be a Mentor here.

Junior women engineers are those with less experience than this, and can include apprentices, trainees, undergraduate and postgraduate students and postdoctoral researchers – with less than 5 years experience in engineering. Please sign up to be a Mentee here.

Date for the diary!

Please sign up in January, as we’ll collect all enrolments and pair you up mentor-to-mentee in early February before our kick off event on 23rd Feb…

Women Like Me – 23rd February, 4 – 6pm at UWE Bristol (Frenchay campus in Filton).

This event will introduce you to the Women Like Me programme, with some top tips and discussion about mentoring and outreach. And hopefully include getting to meet your new mentee/mentor for the first time (!) as well as the rest of this years cohort. 

Those are the core details, but if you’d like to find out more about the programme – including why we think women mentoring is important, more detailed plans for this year, expectations from mentor/mentees, past successes etc – please read below.

Why is this important?

Only 12% of engineers in the UK are women. In order to support female engineers, more girls need to connect with engineering as a career, with positive female role models, and more women need to be supported to make a difference in the workplace.

Women Like Me is addressing this by pairing together women engineers to provide career and public engagement mentoring. Participating engineers deliver engineering engagement activities in local schools and at local public events, providing positive role models for young girls. Through this approach, the project impacts the workplace today and the future of the engineering profession.

What will it involve?

Introductions – We offer various networking and training opportunities to all participants, this year the first session will be held face-to-face on 23rd Feb.

Goal setting – On 9th March, there’ll be an online goal setting session for mentors and mentees. Alexandra Knight (from STEMazing) will lead mentoring pairs through focused discussions to get their mentoring relationships off to a great start.

Mentor only coaching – This year will be a great opportunity for mentors to develop themselves as well as their mentees, with Alex leading four subsequent online ‘mentoring circle’ meetings for mentoring coaching and peer support. These sessions will be spread throughout the year and will be private sessions for mentors-only.

Mentoring meet-ups – We expect mentors and mentees to meet at least twice during the year – although we’d encourage more, if that’s possible for both parties. These meetings or conversations can take whatever form best suits each pair – something to discuss in your initial meetings in Feb/March.

Mentees public engagement – Junior engineers will receive training in public engagement (Senior Engineers can also take part!) and we ask them to then undertake at least three engineering outreach activities with local schools and public events. Coordination of activity is provided and supported by UWE – we’ll send you opportunities over email and support you in these sessions.

Log your activities – we then ask mentors to log their mentoring meet-ups, and the mentees to log their public engagement – this helps us to track how the programme is going.

More Women Like Me Info

This project was first launched in 2018 and is based in the Science Communication Unit and School of Engineering at UWE Bristol. The project is organised by Dr Louisa Cockbill and Ana Bristow, and was initiated by Dr Laura Fogg Rogers and Dr Laura Hobbs. It is supported by the initiative for Digital Engineering Technology & Innovation (DETI).

You can read about the successes of the project in previous years and access the 2018-2019 project report. A paper in the Journal of Science Communication, Fogg-Rogers and Hobbs (2019) places Women Like Me in the context of recruitment and retention of women in engineering.

For any further information please email engineeringourfuture@uwe.ac.uk or follow us on Twitter for updates.

How do I sign up?

If you’ve not already done this on the links above, here they are again! To take part in the project this year, interested participants should complete the appropriate online survey:

Senior Engineers (over 5 years experience) please complete this survey

Junior Engineers (less than 5 years experience) please complete this survey

The project coordinators will then be in touch in February to introduce you to your mentor/mentee.

Engineers meet to inspire the next generation

Posted on

On Tuesday 13th September, Engineers across the West of England gathered at UWE Bristol to glean insights into how to ‘Inspire young people in Engineering’.

The 20 diverse engineers were led through the “how to” of engaging & inspiring children by the science communication experts from local Bristol planetarium company, Explorer Dome.

Explorer Dome have been travelling throughout the country for over 20 years, providing children with a science experience inside their awe-inspiring inflatable planetariums. They drew on this wealth of experience at the training session, to guide the engineers through the basics, with plenty of examples and opportunities for the engineers to ‘have a go’.

Attendees reported an overall increase in confidence in delivering engineering outreach to children and said the following:

“Great top tips! [I have a] better idea of how to interact and communicate science with children.”

Presenters know what they’re doing! Inspiring and I hope I can be a good communicator like them someday.”

Really helpful content and activities.”

With more diverse representation recognised as an important factor to increase the numbers and diversity of engineers joining the workforce, it was great to have so many female engineers present (13 out of 20 attendees), as well as engineers from range of ethnic backgrounds. Thanks to everyone who joined us and we wish you the best with your school outreach!

What’s next to inspire the next generation of engineers?

This training was funded as part of the Royal Academy of Engineering’s public engagement grant scheme – Ingenious – secured by UWE. This Ingenious funding will also be used to extend the impact of Explorer Dome’s ‘We Make Our Future’ show – a show all about engineering a sustainable future.

The show was was originally developed in 2021 as a collaboration between Explorer Dome and UWE Engineering’s outreach team, with initial funding from the Digital Engineering Technology and Innovation (DETI) initiative. Now Ingenious funds are enabling the team to take ‘We Make our Future’ into schools in areas of socioeconomic deprivation in the West of England.

The team is also extending some of the content of the show – adding in videos from local engineers, to showcase the breadth of people in engineering and inspire the diverse and socially conscious engineers of tomorrow. 

Some of the engineers seen at training this month, may well become those inspirational role models showcased inside the planetarium in the coming months!

Additional Information

UWE Engineering

You can find out more about UWE Engineering and the activities of the Outreach team on the UWE Engineering our Future website.

Explorer Dome

Explorer Dome is an internationally known, vibrant, popular science outreach organisation.
They travel across the UK presenting live science shows for schools, festivals and special events. Hands-on demonstrations and stunning visuals combined with knowledgeable, enthusiastic and professional presenters: Explorer Dome is presenter-led, lively, interactive and fun!

Royal Academy of Engineering – Ingenious: public engagement awards

Ingenious is an awards scheme for projects that engage the public with engineers and engineering while providing engineers with skills and opportunities in public engagement.

They prioritise projects that reach diverse and underrepresented audiences including communities in the most deprived neighbourhoods in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and that engage with engineers and people of different genders, ages and ethnic backgrounds.

DETI

DETI is funded by the West of England Combined Authority; it is transforming engineering for the digital era and inspiring the next generation of engineers. It is helping identify the technologies that will drive innovation in developing sustainable products, systems, businesses, infrastructure and transport that underpin a net zero environment. It is creating a new, diverse engineering community and systems to investigate, develop & demonstrate the advanced digital technologies and skills needed for the sustainable products of the future.

Digital Engineering Technology & Innovation (DETI) is a strategic programme of the West of England Combined Authority (WECA), delivered by the National Composites Centre (NCC) in partnership with the Centre for Modelling & Simulation (CFMS), Digital Catapult, the University of the West of England (UWE), the University of Bristol, and the University of Bath. WECA funding of £5m is match funded by the High Value Manufacturing Catapult and industry.

UWE’s Engineering Family Fun Day a Great Success!

Posted on

Families from around Bristol recently came to UWE’s brand new School of Engineering building to enjoy a range of free science and engineering-based activities.

The families that came to the event explored different aspects of engineering such as coding and robotics through LEGO Mindstorm and Pepper (our humanoid robot), digitally engineering solutions to citywide problems through Minecraft, designing the best wind turbine blade in our craft activity, and other stations featuring, eco-houses, crafting and a free planetarium show from Explorer Dome.

The visitors to UWE’s new Engineering building were wowed by the space available to student engineers and also by an exhibition of children’s inventions. The inventions were submitted to the Leaders Award competition – a nationwide scheme that encourages children to solve problems using engineering thinking.

The event was a perfect opportunity to inspire younger children to think like engineers whilst having fun along the way, as well as introducing them to technology that they may not have been able to interact with otherwise. One 13 year old visitor exclaimed how much she loved the fun day saying one day she “would like to come here herself (UWE) and learn more” whilst another couldn’t wait to get home and try to make their own robots.

We would like to thank all the staff of UWE, helpers, and students that made this event happen for making it an amazing day!

Shining a light on green job pathways for the next generation

Posted on

Today marks the launch of a new year-long programme that aims to inspire and motivate young people in the West of England to pursue green career pathways. Known as Inspire Sustainability, it is one of three West of England Combined Authority (WECA)-funded initiatives as part of the Green Futures Fund, that, if successful, could be replicated and scaled to meet the region’s Climate Emergency Plan and Net Zero ambition.

This announcement builds on recent WECA support of other green skills initiatives in local schools, with West of England Mayor Dan Norris awarding the first green jobs grant for three schools to develop a special environmental careers programme -read more here.

Inspire Sustainability: in a nutshell

Developed in collaboration with UWE-Bristol’s Science Communication Unit, Cabot Learning Federation, Avon Schools Eco Network and STEM Ambassadors West of England, the programme was developed as part of the initiative for Digital Engineering Technology and Innovation (DETI) Inspire programme. Inspire Sustainability will expand the region’s existing hub of sustainability skills education and training to highlight the region’s leading green skills and expertise in the labour market. Working in partnership, the consortium will deliver three areas of work to three pilot schools; Hans Price Academy in North Somerset, Bristol Brunel Academy in Bristol, and Digitech in South Gloucestershire.  The project includes:

  1. All-school engagement: tailored lessons, talks and careers events with diverse role models, culminating in a whole-school Sustainability Summit.
  2. Eco Council engagement: Eco Action Plan co-development to support the schools achieve Eco School status
  3. Teacher engagement: training so that teachers have the confidence to engage young people on these topics and support them to imagine a future where they can see themselves playing an active role in shaping development.

Once piloted, the outcomes will be shared widely to primary and secondary schools as well as to educational professionals and academics through the consortium’s networks.

West of England Mayor Dan Norris with Year 10 pupils from Orchard School at the Youth Engineering for Environmental Sustainability Summit in October 2021

Building on what works

The Inspire Sustainability approach builds on tried and tested methods explored in DETI Inspire, which has engaged over 7,000 children and young people in the West of England on engineering for sustainability.

Consortium member UWE-Bristol’s Science Communication Unit has a track record of working with and training diverse stakeholders to reach sustainability goals. In 2021, the Unit launched its Climate Action Hub to highlight the existing work of students and academics in this space, as well as to offer support and training to further amplify climate action. Currently it is delivering climate communications training to young people and supporting them to act on things that matter to them. The Youth Climate Communications toolkit will be used to develop the teacher engagement portion of Inspire Sustainability.

Meanwhile, the STEM Ambassador programme will be key to recruiting diverse green role models while Avon Schools Eco Network will use their expertise to support the schools to develop their action plans.

If you are interested to know more about any of this work, please contact project manager Sophie Laggan.


A toolkit and training for youth climate social action

Posted on

A toolkit and training for effective youth climate comms and social action

UWE Bristol’s Science Communication Unit (SCU) is launching a new Youth Climate Action Toolkit to empower young people to act on things that matter to them. The toolkit is suitable for 16-24-year-olds, and we encourage you to please download and share the kit with any (young) person you think may benefit from these tools!

The newly developed toolkit has been produced in partnership with young people from the Avon Schools Eco Network, following pilot training held with the DETI Inspire team in the School of Engineering.

The pilot involved 12 young climate activists who learnt how to be more effective with their own campaigning, whilst forming the foundations of this new toolkit to support other young people. As well as empowering young people to act, the toolkit aims to speak with and engage diverse audiences that may not otherwise take part (e.g., through filmmaking, persuasive writing and interactive stalls, etc).

What is inside the toolkit?

To allow any young person to use the materials independently of the training, the toolkit has been designed to stand-alone or complement the training. It consists of four sections:

  • Section one: lays the foundations for effective team working, with a skills audit for young people to assess their baseline entrepreneurial skills for sustainability, and time set aside to define their action project based on need
  • Section two: encourages readers to understand different worldviews – including those from different sides of the political spectrum, and people in positions of power and influence
  • Section three: drills down into the communication methods, allowing readers to select the right method for their audience and to prototype and test their communications
  • Section four: encourages readers to reflect on their learnings, re-assess their skills and evaluate the impact of their communications

Training in the community

The SCU team have also been delivering the Youth Climate Communications to local colleges and youth groups. The training is modular, which allows it to be adapted to suit the needs and interests of the organisations involved.

The training is already being modified to suit the needs of one college, where they have aims to support a more sustainable educational environment by delivering to their students over a two-week period at the end of term. Students will vote on a priority for action within their college and then work in teams, with the support of a coach, developing a communications and behaviour change campaign which could then be delivered in the following term.

The young people’s experience of the programme is being evaluated to better understand whether their attitudes, skills and behaviours relating to sustainability, change as a result of the training. Findings will be shared on this blog later this year.

For empowerment programmes

Meanwhile, aspects of the training are also being delivered to participants of more established empowerment programmes, such as this year’s Catalyse Change programme, Bristol Education Partnership’s Climate Challenge and The Global Goals Centre’s Groundbreakers awards, with the toolkit also featuring in the Groundbreakers’ action pack.

A future aim of the project is to deliver the training online to youth groups and educational establishments across the country, and beyond, with training provided to educators to deliver the programme themselves. For a taster of what this training could look like, head to our YouTube where you can access the social media component of the training.

Where it all began

The training emerged from conversations among the SCU and colleagues about the desire to share our knowledge on climate communications and active citizenship more broadly, so when a funding opportunity arose the Unit was quick to pull together a team to make their dream a reality. The all-female team consists of academics and researchers in disciplines ranging from human geography, engineering, and environmental anthropology – to building physics and entrepreneurship. What unites them is a common interest in supporting young people to develop the skills and confidence they need to take action about things that matter to them.

This training is the first offering from UWE’s Climate Action Hub, also established by the SCU. The Hub is a place for researchers and students to connect with communities for climate action. There is already some work on campus doing just this, such as the children’s workshops delivered by DETI Inspire and Inspire Sustainability, but this is the first time training has been put in place to support the University and communities to do more.

To find out more about the in-person and online toolkit or to connect to the Climate Action Hub, email project manager Sophie Laggan.

To download the toolkit click here.

Metro Mayor meets the people behind the West of England’s green tech

Posted on

Metro Mayor Dan Norris met the bright young minds behind some of the West of England’s leading green tech initiatives, during a visit to UWE Bristol’s School of Engineering on Frenchay campus last week.

Mr Norris met some of the skilled young engineers and entrepreneurs behind some of the region’s leading green initiatives as part of the Metro Mayor’s second Jobs and Skills Summit, as well as being given an insight into projects to inspire the region’s future innovators.

The innovative tech on display included drones that measure microplastics in the air, built by award-winning student engineers at UWE Bristol, digitally engineered leak-proof hydrogen storage containers and machines that optimise the growth of the crops people eat.

Some of the programmes are funded through the Digital Engineering Technology and Innovation programme, a £5 million initiative from the West of England Combined Authority.

Green Skills

Mr Norris met learners from the Green Skills for Jobs and Entrepreneurship (Green Skills) project, a programme designed to upskill learners from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups to help the region achieve its net zero target. 

Green Skills is led by UWE Bristol and delivered in partnership with the Black South West Network and NatWest. It has received £760,000 of funding from the UK’s Government’s Community Renewal Fund and is overseen by the West of England Combined Authority within the region. 

Mr Norris said the demonstration showed the abundance of talent across the West of England and applauded the talented youngsters supporting the region to reach its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2030, and commented:

“I’m so pleased to meet the teams of enthusiastic young people who are pioneering environmentally-friendly technology, boosting the West of England economy and supporting our efforts to reach our net-zero ambitions. It just goes to show how much talent there is in the region, as well as the good, high-quality jobs there are for local people in future-proof sectors such as the green economy, helping us to tackle the climate emergency alongside the jobs crisis.”

Inspiring a Green Future

Special thanks go to Associate Professor Laura Fogg-Rogers who arranged the summit at UWE’s new Engineering building. She also arranged for the mayor to get a preview of the DETI funded We Make our Future planetarium show.

The team from Explorer dome persuaded the Mayor and summit guests to take of their shoes and crawl into the inflatable planetarium for a taster of the engineering sustainability themed show designed to inspire the next generation of engineers. Read more about the show and it’s new funding to go into more schools in the West of England.

Altered from the original post on https://intranet.uwe.ac.uk/whats-happening/news/Article/Metro-Mayor-meets-young-minds-behind-best-of-West-of-England-clean-tech by Anthony Poploski.

UWE Engineering inspires local children to redesign our world

Posted on

The Engineering Outreach team at UWE Bristol are sending engaging role models, alongside a fully immersive planetarium show, into schools to inspire local children to think creatively – like an engineer – and design a sustainable future for our planet.

The “We Make Our Future” show was developed in collaboration with the science entertainment wizards from Explorer Dome, the Bristol-based mobile planetarium company, and funded initially by the Digital Engineering Technology and Innovation (DETI) initiative. Today new support for the educational show has been announced by the Royal Academy of Engineering’s public engagement grant scheme – Ingenious.

This funding will allow Explorer Dome to take the show to 4000 more children in the West of England. As well as enabling the team to incorporate videos from local engineers, to showcase the breadth of people in engineering and inspire the diverse and socially conscious engineers of tomorrow. 

“There are so many inspiring engineers and careers in the West of England and we’ve been celebrating this diversity with our Engineering Curiosity card set as part of our DETI Inspire work,” said UWE Bristol’s project lead, Associate Professor Laura Fogg-Rogers.

“We’re now really excited to bring their stories to the big screen – inside a huge inflatable dome with surround sound to inspire the engineers of the future!”

We Make Our Future

The 360° digital projections in the mobile planetariums take children on a journey – exploring the history of human ingenuity, from the Stone Age to the Space Age, then pivoting to focus on humanity’s current big challenge – tackling climate change.

Reducing our carbon emissions means redesigning nearly everything we use in the modern world – a vast job that requires lots of imagination and a whole myriad of skills and techniques. And whilst the West of England is a hotbed for engineering, there is a shortfall of skills in the workforce.

This initiative looks to address the skills shortfall of the future by encouraging young people to see themselves as engineers. Role models are key to children envisioning themselves in future careers, which is why including diverse engineers is crucial.

“We were honoured to showcase our dome experience at COP26, and it was clear that seeing real-life engineers tackling these big problems was inspirational to audiences,” said Explorer Dome Director and Senior Presenter, Joshua Yates. “That’s why we want to hear from diverse engineers making a difference and support them to tell their stories to young people across the West”.  

In the next few months, the team at UWE Bristol and Explorer Dome will be recruiting local engineers and training them to engage young people, then selecting five engineers to make inspiring films in their workplaces. Training will enhance the engineers’ ability to communicate sustainability solutions in a positive way – something which is hugely important to change attitudes and behaviours towards climate action.

Films of sustainability engineers at their workplaces will showcase how the engineering design process can address the Climate and Ecological Emergency. All adding to the show’s ability to light up the imaginations of the next generation as it travels throughout the region.

If you’re a local engineer with a sustainability focus – please do get in touch to get involved with our training – louisa.cockbill@uwe.ac.uk

Additional information

The show was first presented to the public at the COP26 Planetarium in November 2021 and has now visited several schools in the region. The Ingenious bid enhances the legacy of the show, by enabling Explorer Dome to physically visit 10 schools, along with 10 Zoom shows, reaching around 4000 children aged 8 –13 years from across the West of England in total. All with no charge to the schools or children’s families.

Diversity in the engineering workforce is very low, therefore this project will target underrepresented populations many of which can be found in areas and schools within the top 25% most deprived neighbourhoods of the West of England.

UWE Engineering

You can find out more about UWE Engineering and the activities of the Outreach team on the UWE Engineering our Future website.

Explorer Dome

Explorer Dome is an internationally known, vibrant, popular science outreach organisation.
Based in Bristol, Birmingham and London, we travel across the UK presenting live science shows for schools, festivals and special events. Hands-on demonstrations and stunning visuals combined with knowledgeable, enthusiastic and professional presenters: Explorer Dome is presenter-led, lively, interactive and fun!

Royal Academy of Engineering – Ingenious: public engagement awards

Ingenious is an awards scheme for projects that engage the public with engineers and engineering while providing engineers with skills and opportunities in public engagement.

They prioritise projects that reach diverse and underrepresented audiences including communities in the most deprived neighbourhoods in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and that engage with engineers and people of different genders, ages and ethnic backgrounds.

DETI

DETI is funded by the West of England Combined Authority; it is transforming engineering for the digital era and inspiring the next generation of engineers. It is helping identify the technologies that will drive innovation in developing sustainable products, systems, businesses, infrastructure and transport that underpin a net zero environment. It is creating a new, diverse engineering community and systems to investigate, develop & demonstrate the advanced digital technologies and skills needed for the sustainable products of the future.

Digital Engineering Technology & Innovation (DETI) is a strategic programme of the West of England Combined Authority (WECA), delivered by the National Composites Centre (NCC) in partnership with the Centre for Modelling & Simulation (CFMS), Digital Catapult, the University of the West of England (UWE), the University of Bristol, and the University of Bath. WECA funding of £5m is match funded by the High Value Manufacturing Catapult and industry.

UWE staff & students win prizes at ethnic minority engineering conference

Posted on

The Association for Black and Minority Ethnic Engineers – AFBE live – held their first annual conference in April, sending happy UWE staff and students home with some sparkling trophies.

Halimah’s trophy

The conference was held at IET savoy place, London, and UWE Research Fellow, Halimah Abdullahi, was runner up in the Next Big Idea Competition – Covid and Diversity & Inclusion category – for her presentation on UWE investigations on how to make engineering inclusive for everyone. This work was part of the Digital Engineering Technology Innovation (DETI) Skills project.

Halimah described the conference as “mind blowing” and “the best event I have attended”. 

There was also success for UWE students Namlan Oulai Siaba and Moataz Hassan, who came 3rd and 4th place respectively in the Tech Innovation category.

The conference was also attended by UWE’s Associate Professor in Assistive Robotics, Virginia Ruiz Garate, who represented UWE at the speed networking event. And Lecturer in Systems Engineering, Amina Hamoud sat on the judging panel for the Next Big Idea Competition.

More about the conference

The conference theme was “The Future of Engineering: Sustainability, Innovation and Diversity”, and 537 people turned up to listen from a host of great speakers, and participate in the many networking opportunities and competitions.

The keynote speakers were Chi Onwurah, MP for Newcastle Central, Dame Ottoline Leyser, CEO of UK Research, and Innovation (UKRI) and Chris Knibb, Head of Corporate Communications, IET. With Chi Onwurah urging everyone to consider getting involved with policy as a way of using engineering expertise and thinking to benefit the society.

Co-founders of AFBE-UK, Dr Nike Folayan and Dr Ollie Folayan, delivered speeches on the background and growth of AFBE. Other speakers included Mark Martin MBE, co-founder of UK BlackTech; Janice Mair, director of people, culture and diversity at EnQuest; Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, public speaker and political commentator; former NBA star John Amaechi OBE, CEO of APS Intelligence and best-selling New York Times author; Shereen Daniels, managing director of anti-racism and racial equity advisory firm, HR rewired; and Ortis Deley, host of Channel 5’s The Gadget Show.

.

In Conversation with Dr. Virginia Ruiz Garate

Posted on

Read the special interview conducted with UWE’s very own – Virginia Ruiz Garate – and published on AZoRobotics a few weeks ago.

Original interview conducted by Megan Craig, MSc and published on AzoRobotics International Women’s Day; In Conversation with Dr. Virginia Ruiz Garate

Please could you briefly introduce yourself and where your research is based?

I am an Associate Professor in Assistive Robotics at the University of the West of England (UWE), Bristol, where I develop my research within the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL). Within UWE I am also the Co-leader of the Robotics Engineering And Computing for Healthcare (REACH) research group.

As far as I remember, I have always been fascinated by robotics. Although I started with a strong interest in Space robotics, during my Master’s degree, I discovered the field of biomechanics and the potential of robots to improve the quality of life of people in need of assistance.

Since then, I have been working towards developing assistive robots able to adapt to the individual characteristics of each user and make them natural and intuitive to use.

© Bristol Robotics Lab

What is your favorite thing about conducting research at BRL, and what made you choose to be based there? 

Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL) is the most comprehensive academic center for multidisciplinary robotics research in the UK. It is a collaborative partnership between the University of the West of England and the University of Bristol. The available assets emerging from this collaboration are formidable in terms of robots and available space, as well as the vibrant community of reputed researchers within the facilities.

My favorite thing about working in BRL is that it is a huge open space encouraging collaboration. Just by coming to the lab, I have the opportunity to witness and be part of the latest developments in robotics and to have very stimulating discussions or even casual chats over a coffee with extraordinary researchers and leaders in their fields.

Moreover, BRL offers the perfect framework to establish contact and invite end-users to participate in developing technologies from their early stage, which is extremely important and useful to create meaningful robotics technology.

Multidisciplinary research is more than just working with researchers in different fields but taking a global approach to collaboration. What more could be done to improve connections between international communities?

Collaboration between people of different fields is key for advancing robotics, especially Assistive Robotics. This subfield combines diverse technical aspects, which themselves are multidisciplinary, and human factors (end-users), which are a key component to a successful implementation and uptake of the technology.

After all, these robots are meant to be used by people regularly and interact with them, often even physically. This human-side of robotics makes inclusivity and diversity critical factors to be considered.

First, assistive robots are not meant to be used by the average population with who robots are usually tested, but by people in need of assistance, a group usually under-represented in research.

Second, it is important to bear in mind that we live in a world that is more open and global every day, and to maximize the impact of the developed robots, we need to be able to reach as much population as possible.

Therefore, national and international connections between researchers, developers, and end-users are needed to ensure that the technologies consider characteristics from all ethnicities, age, genders, and cultural backgrounds. Without this, advancements in research will have a very limited and local impact.

UWE 2021 Open Day © UWE

What could be done for those between women in STEM?

Women represent 49.6% of the population. However, they are under-represented as end-users of the technology and as designers and researchers.

By not including them in the development process, we miss their vision, needs and requirements, ending up with robots that are not appealing or even usable for them.

Initiatives such as the Women in Robotics group, Women in Engineering Society, or even at a smaller scale, the Women Researchers’ Mentoring Scheme in UWE, are beneficial to build connections between women in the field by creating a sense of community for women in STEM.

These communities not only serve as networking tools to establish possible collaborations, but they also provide a feeling of “belonging” in a field in which women are still underrepresented.

© DOERS/Shutterstock.com

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is #BreakTheBias, focusing on forging an inclusive, diverse, and equal future between genders. What would you say is the most important action that needs to be taken to achieve this?

It is difficult to pick just one action, as so much can be done. Focusing on STEM, I would highlight having reference figures to look upon and feel represented. For example, having women in the higher layers of STEM research and technical jobs can help to break the bias. Women in senior positions can give extra encouragement and confidence to not feel “out of place”, and create that feeling of “belonging”.

During my early career, I have been fortunate to work with two magnificent women and two men as mentors, which gave me a good balance. However, I have often been approached by female students who said it was the first time they could have a female mentor and how they were looking forward to it.

We must start opening our eyes; numerous extraordinary robotic researchers are women, but we rarely hear about them. We must encourage diversity at conferences and symposiums, which often have an established repetitive structure. Only with efforts like these can we build a future where technology is for everyone.

About Dr. Virginia Ruiz Garate

Dr. Virginia Ruiz Garate is an Associate Professor at UWE

She researches adaptive controllers and leading the Assistive Robotics group at BRL. Previously, she was a PostDoc at the Italian Institute of Technology, where she worked under the EU projects SOMA and SOPHIA investigating new bio-inspired grasping stiffness controls for robotic hands and multi-robot collaborations.  

She obtained her Ph.D. from the Universite Catholique de Louvain (UCL) in Belgium where she developed bio-inspired controls for lower limb exoskeletons under the EU project CYBERLEGs. 

Virginia has been serving as a reviewer for IEEE journals and conferences and co-organized the ICRA 2021 and RSS 2019 workshop on “Emerging Paradigms for Robotic Manipulation: from the Lab to the Productive World”,  and the workshop “Human factors in the design and control of robots: what are we missing?” in the 2020 I-RIM 3D conference. Her current research interests include bio-inspired control, assistive robotics, grasping and manipulation, and human-robot collaboration. 

Banner images courtesy of Melitas & M.Style/Shutterstock

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited (T/A) AZoNetwork, the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and Conditions of use of this website.

Megan Craig
Written by Megan Craig
Megan graduated from The University of Manchester with a B.Sc. in Genetics, and decided to pursue an M.Sc. in Science and Health Communication due to her passion for combining science with content creation. As part of her studies, Megan partnered with Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre as a Digital Marketing Assistant, producing content and updating sections of their website. In her spare time, she loves to travel, exploring each location’s culture and history – including the local cuisine. Her other interests include embroidery, reading fiction, and practicing her Japanese language skills.

Science through stories

Posted on

Last week, UWE’s storytelling extraordinaire -Jane Carter – trained up 31 local scientists to make their selected STEM stereotype-busting books come alive for children.

This training is the first step in a new scientist storytelling programme in schools – launched by the DETI Inspire team at UWE Bristol, in collaboration with the West of England STEM Ambassador hub.

The Inspire team want every child in the West of England to see themselves as scientists, and are using books to immerse children in stories featuring women, people from black, Asian and minority ethnicity backgrounds and people with neurodiversity having science-y fun. All delivered by wonderfully inspiring STEM Ambassadors with their own unique story and passions to tell.

The “Curious Stories for Curious Children” model has previously been deployed in science-related locations across the city – but now we want to reach an even wider spread of children in Bristol’s schools.

The outreach classroom in UWE’s new Engineering Building was opened up for the training – which wasn’t for the faint hearted, whether online or in-person. The participants dived into the book “Tadpole’s promise” which led them along a tale of two star-crossed lovers (a tadpole & a caterpillar) as they explored ideas about how to introduce a book and build intrigue. All before the rather brutal ending!

It was a hands-on workshop, with every STEM Ambassador leaving with a book from our library tucked under their arm and some sparkling ideas on how best to engage children with the content.

We can’t wait to hear how the kids find the storytelling sessions!

Back to top