The Lottie Tour is run by the Young Members Board of the Women’s Engineering Society. Lottie is a doll with a difference! She is 18cm tall and designed to reflect the reality of being 9. She is creative, sociable and curious about the world and her future. The Lottie Tour sees engineers take her to work with them to explore modern engineering careers.
I’ve watched the Lottie Tour with interest over the last few years but this is the first time I have had an opportunity to take part.
Lottie spent a week shadowing me in my role as a Lecturer on the Civil Engineering Degree Apprenticeship at the University of Exeter. She joined me on my cycle commute along the Exe Trail, tested concrete in the laboratory and travelled to London for a meeting with the Sutton Trust and Engineering UK.
In our spare time we visited the Lost Words exhibition at the RAMM and investigated materials used in local buildings at the Topsham Museum.
I included Lottie in a variety of activities that I get involved in to support my work as a lecturer. Even in a teaching position, with twenty years of experience, you are always still developing.
Meeting the artist Jackie Morris at her Lost Words exhibition helped me think about the process of creating drawings - which should help in my teaching of first year students, who are currently developing their sketching skills.
My third year students’ project work involves investigating pervious concretes that I have not worked with before, so I’m genuinely curious to understand their behaviour under load.
We also of course visited IStructE HQ for an evening technical lecture, where Lottie was lucky enough to meet Darren, Deputy Chief Executive of the Institution, and try out structural models in the library.
Then and now
The theme of the Lottie Tour is ‘then and now’ – I’ve been a Chartered Structural Engineer for 19 years and there have been many positive changes in structural engineering over the last couple of decades.
Sustainability has a much higher profile, perhaps in part because IStructE and other institutions made sure it was included in all accredited degrees - well before employers were recruiting engineers with environmental awareness.
The growth of building information modelling has changed the way we design. I’m hoping that we will use that power to design buildings with less materials rather than just taking less time to design each one!
Women in engineering
I can only remember one female lecturer during my MEng degree and I had finished my graduate training agreement before I worked on a project led by a female engineer.
Fortunately my IStructE Regional Group included a number of inspirational female engineers who have encouraged me and others following in their footsteps.
As role models and decision makers we can now welcome young women into the profession; and as mothers and aunts, we can make sure our children and their friends see just how rewarding a career in engineering can be.
Careers advice is still very patchy, with individual schools having to spend very limited budgets as best they can. There are many organisations, including IStructE, trying to make sure that information is available.
But too often we are competing between engineering disciplines to reach sixth formers who are already on course for required grades in specific subjects.
We are now reaching younger children, not least with the Lottie Project, but we also need to think about how we can help people transfer if they chose a different path or want to progress from a technician to a Chartered Structural Engineer.
This is the fourth #WESLottieTour so the first group of engaged nine year olds will be choosing their GCSE options soon. It has certainly opened up a conversation about careers with my youngest but we will have to wait a few more years to see whether the impact extends to undergraduate study choices.