Alumni Provide Engineering Inspiration for Pupils
Thursday, 23 October 2014
Several Alumni spoke at an Engineering Careers Day hosted recently by the School for pupils in Years 10 to 13 with an interest in the sector. This was a fantastic opportunity for pupils to find out more about the options available, and gave them an insight into the rich variety of career paths available within engineering.
The event was opened by keynote speaker Kate Bellingham, a TV personality perhaps best known for her work on science programmes such as the BBC’s Tomorrow’s World and ITV’s Big Bang, but who has also worked on a range of other science and engineering projects both on- and off-screen. These have included involvement with the BLOODHOUND supersonic car as an ambassador, presenting the National Science and Engineering Awards at the Big Bang Fair alongside Brian Cox, and becoming the National STEM Careers Coordinator for the government department of Children, Schools and Families.
Kate talked to the pupils about the world of opportunities that science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) can open up. She talked about her own career path, starting out as an electronic engineer who wanted to have a unit named after her, alongside scientists such as Isaac Newton or Heinrich Hertz. Although this has not happened, she said that she is nonetheless pleased with how her career has panned out. For example, she said that she is immensely proud to have had a set of new student residential blocks at the University of Hertfordshire named ‘Bellingham Court’ after her.
As part of her talk, Kate asked volunteers from the audience to help construct a timeline of her life, giving each of the pupils a card that showed a significant event and asking them to put them in order – as well as figuring out which one was not true about her, and why. With cards as diverse as ‘Master’s Degree’, ‘Mother’, ‘Marathon Runner’, ‘BBC Engineer’, ‘Maths Teacher’ and even ‘Opera Singer’, this was no easy task! The pupils initially picked ‘Opera Singer’ as the false event, but Kate explained that they were incorrect as she has recently joined an amateur opera society. Some more suggestions were called out, before finally the pupils landed on the fake event: ‘Marathon Runner’.
Kate then explained her reasons for asking the pupils to take part in this fun task: “I don’t want you to think that you have to fit a box to be an engineer – you can still be you. By doing this, I’m challenging your assumptions about me, about engineers and maths teachers and mums, but also your assumptions about you.”
As well as talking about her own career, Kate also gave the pupils excellent advice for the future. She reminded them that grades are important, but also emphasised the important of life experiences, both in a work environment and beyond. She talked about the importance of qualities and passions on a person’s CV.
She said, “What you’re doing is building a springboard that will bounce you off to where you want to be. Not doing something you’re passionate about is a waste of you.”
Towards the end of her keynote speech, Kate talked about her work on Tomorrow’s World and the grand global challenges facing the future, which those in the world of engineering are best placed to think about and solve. She said that asked working on the BBC programme, she is often asked what the future will look like, but argued that this is the wrong question. The question she asks in return was, “What do you want the future to be like and what are you doing to create it?”
After Kate’s inspirational opening, the pupils dispersed to enjoy a number of talks from industry professionals and higher education providers, including several from Bolton School alumni.
Rachel Egan, who left Bolton School in 2009, is now a Product Development Engineer with the SVO Special Operations Team at Jaguar Landrover, following a hugely successful internship with the company. She spoke to the pupils about her career since leaving Bolton School and discussed her day-to-day work with the company after accepting her current position.
Old Girl Shakti Patel is an undergraduate currently completing a year long industrial placement before she returns to Loughborough University to complete her Masters Degree in Aeronautical Engineering. She is working as a Warhead Engineer based within the Aerodynamics, Propulsion and Lethality department of MBDA. She was recently the winner of an Engineering Leadership Advanced Award from the Royal Academy of Engineering. Shakti spoke to pupils about her undergraduate experience and aeronautical engineering generally, as well as her current role with MDBA, which made for a really interesting talk.
Old Boy Jamie Laundon now works for BBC Radio in the Radio Technology department as a Senior Technologist. His team helps to define the technology requirements for the whole of the BBC Radio division. He talked to pupils about his time at Nottingham University studying electronic engineering and helping to operate the student radio station, which sparked his interest in radio and eventually led to him working for all the major radio stations in the UK in some capacity before landing his BBC role. This was a really inspirational talk from someone who has found an engineering role within a field about which he is passionate.
Amy Williams left Bolton School in 1997 and went on to obtain a Masters degree in civil engineering. She talked to pupils about her work as a Contract Assurance and Audit Manager with the Highways Agency and the many interesting jobs she has been a part of since then. From working on small, rural bridges to lifting motorway bridges in order to repair and replace sections without stopping the flow of traffic.
Other guest speakers from a wide range of universities and companies also spoke to pupils on a variety of topics.
Dr Nigel Austin, the Apprentice Capability and Development Manager for Military Air and Information at BAE Systems, talked about engineering apprenticeships, the different levels of qualifications, and the different routes into Engineering.
Candice Downie is the senior lecturer and programme leader at the Centre for Advanced Performance Engineering (CAPE) at the University of Bolton. She spoke to pupils about motorsport and performance engineering and the opportunities available at the University of Bolton, and also at other academic institutions in the UK.
Former Formula Ford driver Russell Howard gave his time to speak to pupils. After finishing his racing career, he went on to found RaceStaff.com, a website that matches motorsport personnel with teams and companies. He is also the CAPE Marketing Coordinator at the University of Bolton. He spoke to pupils about their options for entering the field of motorsport in its many varied forms, including Formula Ford, the various ‘feeder formulae’ such as Formula 3 Auto GP, and the familiar Formula 1.
Russell also arranged for one of the University of Bolton’s racing vehicles to be displayed at the School for the duration of the Engineering Day. The car spent the majority of the day in the central Riley Quad, where pupils could admire the exterior. However, at lunchtime, the car was driven around to the Dobson Road Quad for pupils to take a closer look. University of Bolton staff were on-hand to lift up the bonnet, explain the mechanics, and even allow interested pupils to sit inside the car and inspect the controls! This was a really exciting opportunity for the pupils to get close to a functioning race car and speak to experts about its construction and capabilities.
The pupils also enjoyed a talk from the ‘Material Girl’ Dr Sujata Kundu, a nanochemist and teaching fellow at Imperial College London. She talked to pupils about the fascinating world of materials engineering, and just how diverse this field can be. During her fascinating talk, she gave the pupils a demonstration of the powers of her favourite material: two-dimensional graphene. She showed off its amazing conductive abilities by cutting through an ice cube using the heat of her hands, simply by holding onto the two ends of a small sheet of the material. This talk definitely had the ‘wow’ factor!
Dr Gary Leeke is a lecturer and reader in Low Carbon Technologies at Birmingham University. He spoke to pupils about chemical engineering, and specifically the challenges faced in large manufacturing plants.
A second chemical engineering talk was led by Dr Ian McConvey, the technical director at McConvey Consultants Ltd. and Aaron Cross from Jacobs. As well as speaking about the career as a whole, Dr McConvey also gave pupils advice on how to enter this field. Aaron talked about working closely with architects to create bespoke buildings for each new product, whether it be a new drug or a highly flammable substance.
Two industry professionals from AMEC Clean Energy Europe discussed nuclear engineering. Account Manager for Defence Nuclear Geoff Pearson and Nuclear Safety Case Consultant Tom Postlethwaite spoke to pupils about their careers in this field, and the interesting and difficult tasks undertaken as part of nuclear engineering.
Professor Tony Price of the University of Warwick described a multi-disciplinary approach, and the many options and avenues available to those interested in studying engineering.
Dr Jenna Stevens-Smith is the Outreach and Public Engagement Manager at Imperial College London and gave pupils an insight into bio-engineering. She emphasised that many bio-engineers start out as medical students, and the crossover between these disciplines is very strong.
University of Salford lecturer Dr Yu Wang spoke about the challenges of civil engineering and the many different branches this career could take.
The pupils could choose to listen to just half of the speakers, as talks ran concurrently, and this was by no means an easy decision with so many excellent options to choose from. The students enjoyed hearing from each of the speakers who generously gave up their time to talk about their field.
They left with plenty to consider and lots of great advice for the future.