Celebrating Women in Engineering and the Built Environment

by Georgia Clark, MEng Mechanical Engineering student.

On 23 June, staff and students from Birmingham City University’s School of Engineering and the Built Environment celebrated International Women in Engineering Day by hosting a special event for Year 9 pupils from across Birmingham. Mechanical Engineering student, Georgia Clark, has written us an account of the day.

International Women in Engineering Day aims to encourage more women into careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The University’s Women in Engineering and the Built Environment Day aims to inspire young women to consider a career in engineering or the built environment by introducing them to women already working in industry and giving them an opportunity to test their skills with a fun and practical task.

The day started with short presentations from University staff and women working in industry, who talked about their career path and why they decided to follow a career in engineering.

Women in Engineering, Mentor

Professor Hanifa Shah opened the day, welcoming the pupils and giving some useful insight into Women in Science and Engineering (WISE), its members and how the campaign is promoted. She gave students a vision to broaden their job prospects in a very clear, concise manner whilst also stirring their interest.

She was followed by presentations by a range of women working in engineering and the built environment. Shilpa Joy, an Automotive Engineering graduate, gave an inspiring account of how she came to study an engineering degree at BCU and the challenges she faced. She was followed by Ellen Thomas, who is undertaking an apprenticeship programme at Jaguar Land Rover, and showed students that a full-time degree isn’t the only path available to a successful career.

BCU lecturer Bisola Mutingwende explored her journey through several engineering disciplines and how she finally found her passion for Biomechanical Engineering.

In addition to the presentations, there were also several short videos from women working in engineering and the built environment, which gave another perspective on how rewarding and fascinating a career in STEM can be.

The students were then told about the project they would be working on for the rest of the day by Laura Leyland, Senior Lecturer in Engineering. To introduce the idea, students were given coloured stickers and asked to stick them on as many people as they could. They had great fun sticking them on their friends and teachers. When they had finished, Laura explained that the stickers represented bacteria, and those with yellow stickers had been infected with a harmful disease. This gave the pupils a visible representation of how quickly harmful bacteria can spread. This is a particularly big problem in developing countries, where hand washing isn’t particularly practiced as access to clean water can be difficult.

Laura then outlined the project brief, which was to create a hand washing device using simple objects and then design an advertisement for the product.

The students proceeded to the project area, keen to get started on their challenge. They were broken into groups of 5, with a mentor to support each group. Even the teachers had to take part, and were formed into two teams.

Women in engineering

Work started instantly – I could feel the ideas and enthusiasm sparking around the room. Some students split up the work they were doing whilst others all worked together.

Students got the opportunity to use tools, such as glue guns, coping saws and hand drills (with appropriate supervision and guidance!). Whilst some were nervous at this prospect, pupils were happy to assist each other and demonstrate their teamworking skills.

The teams had two and a half hours to design and make their solutions, and then it was time for the test runs. The designs were judged by Hanifa Shah and two representatives of the charity Practical Action, who designed the challenge. Each group pitched their advertisement to one of the three judges and demonstrated their product. Some groups interacted with their audience, or offered dramatic or musical performances. These made for a particularly humorous competition!

There were several prizes on offer. The 1st prize was awarded to the team which developed the overall best product, presentation and teamwork. Additional spot prizes were awarded for creativity, sustainability, and teamwork.

The winners were:

  • 1st prize: Lordswood Girls’ School
  • Runners up: Langley School, Barr Beacon School
  • Prize for Creativity: St Alban’s ARK Academy
  • Prize for Sustainability: Barr Beacon School
  • Prize for Teamwork: Bordesley Green Girls’ School
Laura Westoby mentored the winning team
Laura Westoby mentored the winning team

Overall, the day went very well and it was a pleasure to observe staff and students get into the spirit of the event. I hope we have ignited an interest in STEM subjects in all of them!

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