In the first of a six-week series, two regional award-winning ICE STEM Ambassadors, Andy Magee & Tara O' Neill, tell us how and why they give their time to inspire young people in schools.
Andy Magee is a Senior Civil Engineer at Leeds City Council and ICE Yorkshire & Humber’s STEM Ambassador of the Year.
"STEM outreach is crucial," says Andy. "Firstly to better inform the next generation of the opportunities available to them, but also to the civil engineering industry which is facing a potential skills shortage in the future. "
"Outreach work helps us to grow the potential engineers of tomorrow and equip them with the skills needed for an ever-changing world of work – in being able to find and convey innovative ideas and solutions for example. If you really want to know why it’s so important, ask yourself: how did you find out about civil engineering? Why did you become a civil engineer? Our careers start much earlier than we realise: not at our graduation ceremony but in the classroom infact."
How I got involved
"I’ve always had a passion to inspire the next generation so I didn’t need much persuasion. Coming from a secondary school that had very little careers advice I relied heavily upon enthusiastic technology teachers to guide me into the world of engineering. As a Trainee Civil Engineer in Leeds City Council I was encouraged to get involved with ICE and found the graduates, apprentices, technicians and students committee. By attending meetings I gained the confidence and opportunity to work with the Regional Education Team, I started organizing STEM activities and signed up to become an ICE STEM ambassador."
What you gain from being an ICE STEM Ambassador
92% of STEM Ambassadors report that they get a sense of achievement or reward and I feel the exact same. I get to play with Lego, build towers, destroy things and basically do all the cool things you did as a kid! Looking at the more solemn attainments, my communication skills have improved and I am now better able to explain complex ideas in simple terms. This has helped massively in my day to day work. So not only do you have fun, develop your skills and meet new budding engineers, it counts as IPD/CPD too!”
My favourite learning activity
"My favorite activity to deliver is the ‘Sky Scraper Challenge’ it can be delivered to all ages and adjusted depending on ability and age. After an interactive presentation students get to work as a team to come up with initial designs for a skyscraper. Once they’ve chosen their design and team name they are given the task of building the biggest most stable tower using only 100 Lego blocks in ten minutes. "
"Once the time is up, I get to test the towers against the forces of nature. All you need is a wobbly table for an earth quake and a book to show the forces of wind and you’d be surprised how excited it makes the students! You can scale the activity up for an older audience by introducing pricing schedules for the blocks and cost for land."
"Working predominately in the highways sector you’d think that I’d want to focus on activity around that expertise but the resources and activities available to you as an ICE Ambassador make them so easy and fun to deliver it doesn’t matter what your specialty is!"
Tara O’Neill is a Graduate Structural Engineer at Arup in Belfast and ICE Northern Ireland’s STEM Ambassador of the Year.
"My aim as a STEM ambassador is to encourage young people from every and any background to consider a career in engineering," says Tara. "It is widely accepted that women are underrepresented in the construction industry, but I also think there are wider diversity and inclusion issues that need to be addressed. "
How I got involved
"I was inspired to focus on this through my own experience. In Northern Ireland, as many people know, we live with the legacy of a delicate political situation. I think that by encouraging engineering through shared education programmes and activities, we can help create links across communities – whether these be to overcome divides of political background, social and cultural divides or economic ones."
"I have seen the benefits of engaging with people from other backgrounds first-hand! I now work with a great engineer and have discovered that we grew up near each other and even got the same school bus every day. However, because our schools catered to pupils from different backgrounds, we had never mixed before we worked together. We are now part of a successful and diverse engineering team. I believe that the work we now do together in encouraging shared education programmes will be able to help ensure the new generation of pupils have better opportunities to meet than was the case when I was younger."
How can engineers impact the community?
The focus of engineering is to help people in some way. Engineering can have a massive impact on the lives of the community. As engineers we are continuously trying to improve this and by engaging with those most affected we can do a better job. I think the next step up from this is to have those the most affected involved in the design."
"Someone who can design the best social housing and associated facilities might have lived in social housing or lived in a deprived area, someone who can best identify the needs of a person with any disability are those people that live with that disability in their everyday life. I think that we could better help these communities if we better represented them. I think you need to get right in there and help create the engineers you want to see in the future."
"It has become obvious that the future of engineering will present challenges not faced by engineers of the past. The effects of climate change have been all over the news recently and the concept of digital transformation are only starting to come to fruition in engineering. In order to meet these challenges of the future, the qualities and skills that will be required to be a great engineer of the future are also changing. I think that we have a responsibility to update the information we provide young people and teachers to let them know that there are so many roles within the engineering community that aren’t the typical mucky boots and hard hat.”