Girls into Engineering pilot scheme blasts off with bloodhound

By IMechE Institution News Team
February 11, 2015 Wed, 11 Feb 2015 14:06:00 GMT

A Girls into Engineering, Science and Technology (GEST) course for secondary students will be expanded following an engaging pilot scheme.

During October and November 2014 the University of Huddersfield ran six electrifying Saturday morning sessions on science and technology for girls in Years 10 and 11 – aged 15 and 16. The workshops encouraged girls to find out how these subjects play a crucial part in all our lives.

Professor John Allport, a Fellow of the Institution, is Professor of Automotive Engineering and Director of the Turbocharger Research Institute within the School of Computing and Engineering. A highly engaged ambassador for engineering, he sits on the Academic Advisory Panel at the Institution, and was one of the session facilitators for GEST. John used Bloodhound outreach materials to run a lively module on rocket science. 

He explained: 
“Our pilot scheme was designed to see if this kind of course can help bring girls into STEM subjects. We aimed to break down negative stereotypes of certain jobs; discover what students of this age find interesting; and to show them that engineering, for example, is often at the heart of it. That can help them realise that their future career could be in science, technology, engineering or maths”.

Following the success of the pilot, the department is developing the format, in order to roll out an enhanced course.

John added: “We showed different aspects of science and technology, and focused on how engineering improves the quality of life, for example in the field of medical engineering. We explored the engineering behind film and television, and sound recording; we looked at mobile phones – and we were able to put into context the girls’ interests, such as music, and show how you can pursue such an area, linked with engineering.”

Girls were encouraged to provide feedback about their experience on the GEST scheme. They enjoyed having the opportunity to gain practical experience and to find out about the range of careers within engineering.

Sinainn O’Neill said: “The GEST workshops really opened my eyes to the kinds of engineering jobs around. I had never realised just how many paths there are to choose from.”

Emily Griffiths commented: “Before I started the workshops, a career in engineering hadn’t really crossed my mind but now I know all about the different branches of engineering, it’s something I definitely want to get into.”

Rebecca Dunning said: “I really enjoyed meeting new people and making new friends who share the same interests. I have also discovered things and enjoyed the hands-on experience.”

John chose Bloodhound as the vehicle to explain the principles of rocket propulsion to the GEST group, because he knew it would provide a stimulating and enjoyable session.

He said: “When I worked in industry I ran a similar outreach session. With GEST, I was keen to use Bloodhound again. We started off with water rockets, which helped us explore the principles of rocket propulsion. The students found the balloon-powered cars fun and engaging.”

John’s colleague Dionne Coburn is GEST programme manager. She commented: “Based on feedback from delegates and course leaders, we are progressing the scheme. The modules that we design for this year will focus on four key areas of engineering, for which we will run day-long masterclasses. Extending the length of each session, thanks to the academics’ passion about presenting their specialisms, should lead to even higher satisfaction from the participants. We’re aiming to hold the new course before the end of this academic year.”

John added: “My university colleagues volunteered their time in order to run these Saturday workshops. There was a really positive feeling from the facilitators, as well as the students, that this was time well spent.”

John said that the challenge for engineers is to make strong connections with primary and secondary school educators. He feels that children are attracted to engineering; what they lack are opportunities to come into contact with inspiring individuals to link them to it.

He added: “Communication and awareness are the big challenges. Engineers need to get the message to schools, to engage teachers and reach students – boys and girls – and inspire them to learn about engineering.”

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