“With the proportion of young women studying engineering and physics remaining static over the last five years, we recognise the need to champion STEM subjects in school”
7 July 2016
At just 9%, the UK has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe, with the country needing an extra 1.82m engineers to meet demand over the next seven years. At St Helen and St Katharine, an independent girls’ school in Abingdon, they are on the case, recognising that it is a compelling economic and societal issue to inspire more young women to pursue engineering careers. This was the focus of their successful day of practical engineering challenges on 23rd June to celebrate National Women in Engineering Day.
“With the proportion of young women studying engineering and physics remaining static over the last five years, we recognise the need to champion STEM subjects in school,” says Head, Rebecca Dougall. “I agree wholeheartedly with Naomi Climer (the first female president of the Institution of Engineering & Technology (IET) in its 144-year history) when she talks about the need to change the inherent ‘maleness’ in engineering that persists – and that stereotypical image of men in dirty overalls. We need to get past that now and champion women in engineering, as a diverse and inclusive workforce is crucial to encouraging different perspectives and ideas that drive innovation - helping the country to keep up with evolving technologies and solve pressing global issues.”
Kris Harrison, winner of the WISE Inspiring Young People Award 2015, took a large group of Year 10 students through life as an engineer. Following a MSc in Physics from Nottingham, Kris started her career with BAE Systems designing safety systems for the Eurofighter Typhoon. “When pilots who were deployed in Afghanistan came back to tell us how we’d saved their lives, I knew I was in the right job.” Kris agrees that we have a way to go to dispel that stereotypical image of men in greasy overalls, but she says “The dirtiest I’ve ever got is crawling under my desk for a lost pencil...”
Kris spoke to the girls about the breadth of careers in engineering, from audio and aeronautical, bio-mechanical and building, chemical and civil; opportunities for travel and the value of international collaborations working on everything from the Mars Rover to developing new drug delivery techniques that could transform the treatment of major diseases such as cancer. Alumnae Francesca Ramsey and Alice Atkins answered questions about studying STEM subjects at school and their subsequent university and career choices. Both young women are second year engineers at Durham University and Francesca is just about to embark on a 10-week summer internship with Rolls Royce. They also helped out with robotic arm construction, balloon car challenges and bridge building, and Lizzie Findley, spoke about her work with Bloodhound SSC.
“Girls find and experience success in science at a very young age here that fuels their passion,” says Head of Science, Gail Lydford. “We foster a love of science, and believe that having strong female role models in engineering is critical and we are proud of our old girls today for providing that inspiration.”
Nominations for the WISE Awards 2016 close on Friday 8 July 2016.