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3 ways STEM ambassadors drive diversity in structural engineering

Caroline Jarvis MIStructE is IStructE’s nominee for the Women’s Engineering Society’s Karen Burt award. Here she explains why she volunteers as a STEM ambassador and outlines ways engineers can make a difference.

I could have ended up in a different job

I myself didn’t really know what being an engineer entailed, until I had an opportunity to attend a girls-only engineering experience in Year 12. 

I was lucky. I was able to meet inspirational female engineers, which helped shape my university course choices and career. Studying maths and physics at university didn’t appeal, but I came to understand that engineering was a way to use my talents in an applied way.

If I hadn’t been made aware of engineering, I could have ended up in a very different job! 

 

Industry has more to do

People with the relevant skills and talent are still missing the opportunity to work in this industry, whether through uninformed careers advice, lack of knowledge, or lingering gender bias. 

We have to work harder to address this. If women and girls don’t think engineering is a viable career for them, we as an industry have lost out on half the talent out there. 

Engineering is ultimately a creative, problem solving career, so if diverse ideas can be brought to the table, then we increase our chances of finding better solutions. 

The construction industry is doing better than it had been historically in this respect, but still has a way to go in equality, diversity and inclusion. 

 

Making engineering careers real for girls with talent

I became a STEM Ambassador because I want people who aren’t traditionally guided towards engineering careers to have the opportunity to learn about the industry and its people. 

My company (Arup) is very supportive of us taking part in engineering promotional events. In 2018 I went back to my former school to talk to Year 10 and 11 girls who had ability in STEM subjects but didn’t necessarily have a career path in mind. 

Being an ex-pupil resounded with the girls, and I was informed later that I had made a hugely positive impression on them. This sort of feedback shows the kind of impact we can have.

I think there are three key ways that we drive change as STEM ambassadors:

 

1: Communication

Outreach in schools and colleges allows us to express the tremendous value of what we do face-to-face. We get to tell our personal stories and show that realistic paths to engineering exist. 

Giving presentations and taking part in smaller group discussions and informal chats helps break down stereotypes and give pupils the confidence to ask questions that make an engineering career more of a reality. 

I try to tailor my answers to suit their interests, as it is also an aim to encourage children to go into any aspect of engineering – not just mine.

By visiting schools we also help change perceptions among teachers and parents - who are of course highly influential in their children’s career paths. 

Ideally, we need to make schools see engineering an obvious career choice for STEM able girls.

 

2: Connections

Pupils can be really inspired by work experience. My office offers a week-long experience for Year 12s twice a year to showcase all the different disciplines of engineering. 

This in-depth week allows the pupils to gain a better understanding of the everyday work we do as engineers.

As STEM ambassadors we can help make connections between schools, institutions and industry and create more opportunities.

 

3: Challenges

In schools and through work experience we can offer pupils a chance to apply their talents to engineering problems, whetting their appetite for our work.

Our work experience week involves building a crane out of wooden dowels, string, blu-tack and Sellotape.

Teams are tasked with building a crane to a minimum height while carrying the most load, whilst also ‘costing’ the crane materials used. 

This teaches basic principles of load paths, as well as showing the need to achieve the aim within budget. It’s a fun, accessible way to get to grips with our form of engineering and important in relating school subjects to jobs.

 

Get involved!

If a greater number and more diverse range of people can be introduced to and be inspired to begin a career in engineering, that can only be beneficial to the industry. Becoming a STEM Ambassador and sharing your experiences is a big way you can help drive change.

Learn more about becoming a STEM Ambassador

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