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If you love civil engineering, you need to share this joy

07 November 2022

The enthusiasm of practising engineers has a pivotal role in creating the industry's talent pipeline, ICE's 2022 STEM Ambassador of the Year says.

If you love civil engineering, you need to share this joy
Children are hugely influenced by enthusiastic teachers and STEM ambassadors. Image credit: Dr Rebecca Wade

It’s a real privilege to be a STEM ambassador and it’s genuinely rewarding.

As a STEM ambassador I share my enthusiasm for what I do with young people.

I work hard to inspire women and underrepresented groups into engineering.

In this blog, I’ll share some of my experiences and reflections on the reasons why I do this, and why I think you should, too.

The importance of hands-on, experiential learning

Some of my most vivid memories from school and university are of times when we got out of the classroom, went on field trips, and explored the built and natural environment around us.

Whether in the classroom or not, it was often the enthusiasm of the teachers that really made a difference to the way I learned.

I later discovered that this is called ‘experiential learning’ and that the role of the teacher in these settings can be pivotal.

This ‘experiential’, hands-on, ‘learning by doing’ approach has been shown to have equal value to students regardless of gender.

This is especially important in subjects which are still male dominated, such as engineering.

Active engagement with engineering professionals really does make a difference.

For instance, in 2021, 500 students took part in the ICE CityZen Award, with over 90 teams submitting an entry.

Of the participants surveyed at the end of the competition, 79% reported a new interest in a career in civil engineering.

Engineering wasn't my first choice

Ok, so here’s my confession, I didn’t choose to study engineering.

Yes, I was interested in the way the world works, and how we interact with it and influence it.

Today you might think that civil engineering was perfect for me, but at the time I was making my choices, geography was the right choice for me.

At Dundee University I had amazing lecturers who were enthusiastic and knowledgeable, and there were field trips!

I learned to think and work across disciplines, applying different methods, drawing on geology, geomorphology, history, economics, computer modeling, and social sciences.

Later, as I started to research landscape processes and water management I began working more closely with engineering and infrastructure professionals.

This led me to the USA to work on river restoration and then to my current role as senior lecturer in Environmental Science at Abertay University, where my teaching is focused on civil and environmental engineering.

Dr Rebecca Wade in front of a STEM display standDr Rebecca Wade is the 2022 ICE STEM Ambassador of the Year. Image credit: Dr Rebecca Wade

Collaborating across disciplines

I’m lucky to have amazing colleagues, who all have incredible engineering and environmental management knowledge.

We have a fantastic industrial liaison group linked to our courses and our awesome graduates often return to share their experiences with our current students.

We must bring our diverse subject knowledge and experiences together and work with allied professions to provide our students with the foundations they need.

My geography and environmental science training and cross-disciplinary practice have helped me to think outside of subject silos.

This helps me to train students, mentor colleagues, and inspire the next generation.

This is essential as we all work to address complex challenges such as the climate and biodiversity crises.

The spark for innovation is often found on the margins and through collaboration

The world is changing, and so is civil engineering.

Our graduates are entering a world where big challenges will require more collaboration, cooperation, communication, and innovation than ever before.

The spark for innovation is often found on the margins, at the edges of disciplines and through collaboration.

I work with my colleagues to ensure our students have the skills and knowledge to build a sustainable future.

This is the message I try to convey as a STEM ambassador.

As a civil and environmental engineer you can help to change the world. If you're worried about climate change, choose a career where you can make a difference.

There is no time to lose, we need more engineers, we need more diverse representation in the industry, and we need them now.

So how do we do that, and how can you help?

Why and how should you become a STEM ambassador?

Here are my five top tips for being a successful STEM ambassador:

  1. Be visible, be a role model - Visibility with purpose is powerful. By sharing your enthusiasm and experiences you will inspire others to consider engineering. Don’t underestimate the value of this, you can make a difference by ‘just’ sharing your enthusiasm about what you do.
  2. Do something practical and interactive – Think about ways to bring the subject to life and get people involved. If you're stuck for ideas, check out the brilliant suggestions and resources provided by the ICE
  3. Teach the teachers - Work with teachers to help them understand what a career in engineering means today. Evidence suggests that teachers have lower confidence when teaching engineering compared to other subjects. As our discipline and our industry changes to meet modern challenges, it's important that we update the outdated ideas about what a career in engineering entails.
  4. Work with your employer or industry partners – Engaging in outreach can enhance your company or institution's reputation, encouraging others to join you. It can also provide development opportunities for you and your colleagues. You're an ambassador for your workplace as well as for engineering. Being a STEM Ambassador can boost professional skills and confidence, enhancing communication and creativity. On most major infrastructure projects there'll be a community engagement or social value professional who you can work with. Together you can deliver engagement opportunities for local schools and communities. I've had really rewarding collaborations with social value professionals. Reach out to them.
  5. Being a STEM Ambassador is a joy! It’s wonderful and rewarding to do. Yes, sometimes it’s exhausting, and it’s not always easy, but the more you do it, the more you learn about what works for you and for different audiences. If you enjoy what you do, please share your joy.

So, let’s celebrate the opportunities engineering can provide and let’s tackle the skills shortage in the industry by inspiring young people into STEM careers. The more faces they see and voices they hear, the more likely they will see themselves as future engineers.

Become an ICE STEM ambassador

Dr Rebecca Wade is the winner of the 2022 ICE STEM Ambassador of the Year

Do you have a passion for the built environment and want to share it?

Do you want to share your experience and give young people a chance to enter this great profession?

Do you want to develop your own skills, like planning and public speaking, which can count towards your CPD?

Volunteer as an ICE STEM ambassador
  • Dr Rebecca Wade, senior lecturer in Environmental Science at Abertay University