The STEM ambassador who mentored the 2022 winning team shares her experience.
Mhairi Porteous, a senior civil engineer at Fairhurst, is a STEM ambassador who volunteered for the ICE CityZen Award in 2022.
Little did she know that the school team that she mentored through the CityZen programme would eventually take home the top prize.
We asked her about her experience, and why she believes it's something other ICE members should also think about volunteering to do.
Why did you become a STEM ambassador?
When I was in school, I went along to an engineering workshop which was run by STEM ambassadors.
I found it really fun and interesting, and it was the initial reason I became fascinated by engineering, and it sparked a new interest for me.
As I knew how effective STEM events were for me when I was at school, I was keen to get involved and become an ambassador to give other students the same opportunity I had.
For students, having the opportunity to witness a real civil engineer in person can provide them with a clear understanding of what lies ahead, particularly when it comes to being a role model for those who may doubt their fit in this career.
Why did you choose to mentor schools for the ICE CityZen Award?
Mentoring pupils in schools is the type of STEM event I like to volunteer for the most as you can interact with the students and can have a direct input into their learning.
The ICE CityZen Award is a competition for 16-18-year-olds where they play CityZen, a civil engineering digital game, and then submit a video project with a proposal about how they could make improvements to their local area.
This is why I felt that the competition was a perfect opportunity for me to inspire students face-to-face with authentic scenarios and answer any burning questions they had.
How did the process of mentoring the students go for you?
Being from Scotland, I chose a school local to me, Hillhead High School.
I mentored a group of 5th year pupils (aged 16-17) from September to December 2022.
The first time I visited the school, I came prepared with a PowerPoint presentation to give the pupils an insight into the industry.
I explained to the class what civil engineering is, the different sectors you can work in and the steps to take to become a civil engineer.
This gave the pupils an opportunity to ask any questions they had about the industry prior to starting the competition.
Presenting to the class was beneficial as it gave me an opportunity to practice presenting to non-technical audiences and improved my presentation and communication skills.
What were your first impressions of the students?
Before I presented to the class, the students told me that only one or two of them had a slight interest in pursuing a career in civil engineering.
Most of the class didn’t know what civil engineering was.
Following my presentation and completion of the digital game, the pupils were much more knowledgeable of the industry, and some were even keen to arrange a summer placement with an engineering consultancy.
What did the competition involve?
The competition involved the pupils participating in a digital game.
It comprises four rounds which recreate tricky challenges of the kind faced by real civil engineers, in a digital environment.
Throughout the game, I enjoyed continuing to support the pupils by going into the school and speaking about their ideas and giving advice about how to develop these further.
I supported the pupils with the ideas they had and gave them examples of when I had faced similar challenges through my project work as an engineer.
They found this interesting to understand how the game applied to the work I do as a structural engineer where I strive to meet client and stakeholders’ expectations while working on a tight budget.
During the competition, the pupils displayed great enthusiasm and innovation, which they captured in their video submission about improving their local area in Glasgow.
What was the winning team's video proposal?
The team spent many hours of their own time filming and editing their ideas.
The winning team’s video proposal focused on improving transport links from Glasgow City Centre to Glasgow airport.
They used their knowledge of the Edinburgh trams and applied this to propose a new and improved tram system in Glasgow.
They proposed a cost-effective transport system with limited negative effects on the local environment by reducing carbon emissions where possible.
How did you help the winning team with their video proposal?
The main challenge which civil engineers face in today’s industry is combatting climate change.
I have learnt ways in which I can reduce carbon emissions at home and through work which I felt was important to share.
I provided this information to the team to help spark ideas in which their project could also keep its carbon footprint to a minimum and contribute to achieving net zero.
How did you and the students celebrate your success?
After finding out about our successful achievement of winning the Gold Award, the team, their teacher Lynsey Robinson, and I were delighted.
We celebrated our success in a memorable way with a trip to London.
As part of this celebration, we had the privilege of having lunch with the current ICE President, Keith Howells.
It was an incredible opportunity for the students to connect with an important figure in the industry and gain valuable insights from his expertise.
Additionally, we were fortunate enough to take a tour of the ICE headquarters at One Great George Street.
Exploring the headquarters allowed us to immerse ourselves in the history and advancements of civil engineering.
What was your favourite part of the competition?
The competition was highly rewarding, not only because I mentored the winning group but for sparking interest in pursuing a civil engineering career among students who had limited prior knowledge before the competition.
Therefore, the outcome of the competition was my favourite part. One student in particular is hoping to do a summer placement with an engineering consultancy this year!
Why is the role of a STEM ambassador important for young people?
Being a STEM ambassador presents an incredible opportunity to ignite the passion for civil engineering among future generations.
As a female civil engineer, my primary goal is to improve gender diversity within the industry, and my role as a STEM ambassador allows me to actively work towards this objective.
Mentoring students for the ICE CityZen Award serves as a fantastic platform for achieving this goal.
Additionally, it enables me to establish a meaningful connection with a school, opening doors for additional STEM activities and creating a continuous cycle of inspiration and encouragement for students to pursue civil engineering studies.
Interested in becoming a STEM ambassador?
It’s free to register through the STEM Learning organisation, which also provides guidance for engaging with young people.
Once you are a STEM ambassador, or if you're an existing one, you can register to become a mentor for ICE CityZen.