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Joanne Haskins: “Everyone can be inspirational”

Joanne Haskins running a workshop with a group of girls

Most people would not realise that as little as 9 months ago I was too scared to give assemblies.

17 May 2016

Jo HaskinsSomeone recently said to me, “I don’t think introverts can be inspirational”. We had just been to a talk about communication by a charismatic person and we were discussing introverts and how they compare to extroverts. What she hadn’t realised is that my confidence at working with students has come from extensive practise.

Most people would not realise that as little as 9 months ago I was too scared to give assemblies, thinking that students would be bored and that my story wasn’t relevant. It was talking to a careers advisor that boosted my confidence, along with the helpful tips she gave me, and since I have given many assemblies and careers talks.

I personally believe that school outreach is something everyone can do. For some this is telling your story via a talk or an article, yet there are many who don’t want to be the centre of attention in this way. They would potentially prefer to tutor a student over several months, coaching and then seeing the direct result of their hard work.

A rewarding experience

In my self proclaimed ‘year of STEM’, which has extended far beyond 12 months, I have undertaken pretty much every type of school outreach activity possible. This is because I have recognised how rewarding I have found it, and I want to keep getting that high that comes with volunteering my time. But I also think it is incredibly important to raise the awareness of the industry but to also give someone the opportunities I had as a child.

I happened to fall into engineering because my careers teacher sent me on a Women in Science and Engineering course at Salford University in the summer of 2002. I spent a week living away from home and working on various engineering projects. Fortunately there were some young graduates who spent the entire week with us, being the role models we didn’t know we wanted. If it wasn’t for my teacher and these young women, I wouldn’t have gone onto to study engineering at university and have spent the last 10 years in the industry.

It is now my time to give something back. We don’t have a diverse industry and yet it is a career which has a wide variety of opportunities. Not just the many different disciplines available but technical roles, project management roles, business roles, and an ever expanding list. In 10 years I have worked for 3 companies in technical and project management roles. I have recently worked on a tunnelling project, which I would have never conceived of doing when I was a high school student.

I think it is important for professionals to explain what we do to parents, students and teachers as you never know who you might reach. I was speaking to trainee maths teachers, to explain how we use the principals they teach at GCSE in engineering, one said “I would have never thought I would have found a subject like this interesting, but I did”. Throughout the whole discussion this young lady was incredibly engaged with a big smile on her face.

Find your niche

But unfortunately a lot of people think volunteering with students isn’t for them. They think they are too old, too young or no longer in a technical role thus are not a suitable role model. Everyone has an interesting story, you just need to find your niche, be it age group of students (or maybe working with teachers) or potentially the type of event you do.

  • Not everyone wants to run a workshop but you might prefer to mentor a student, in either a technical subject or community project.
  • Potentially you want to tutor with a charity like The Access Project, helping a student excel in a subject or improve one of their weaker ones.
  • Maybe a 'guess my job' event suits you more, where you answer students prepared questions in small groups.
  • Or volunteering to run a hands on activity at an event like The Big Bang Fair (or other similar engineering and science fairs).

I don’t recall my high school hosting events like this and I wish they had. This is your chance to potentially change the direction of someone’s life.

Joanne Haskins, Project Manager with Turner & Townsend

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