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Two engineers at different stages of their careers, give us their top tips for engagement

01 May 2020

In the second of a six-week series, regional award-winning ICE STEM ambassadors tell us how and why they give their time to inspire young people in schools.

Two engineers at different stages of their careers, give us their top tips for engagement
Alex Prance is a Civil Engineering technician with Stantec

Alex Prance is a Civil Engineering Technician with Stantec and ICE Wales’s STEM Ambassador of the Year.

"My belief is that STEM can be for everyone and I'm passionately committed to being an ICE STEM ambassador. When I'm doing my engagement with young people, I think my openness to answer all questions honestly relating to the industry and share my personal experiences is the biggest benefit I can deliver. I’m doing an apprenticeship route and so I’m a big advocate for both Level 3 and degree apprenticeships. Students like to talk to me about my industry experiences and how it benefits my university learning.

"To give students an insight to my role, I discuss past projects I have delivered including the problems, thinking processes, solution types and implementation. I’m part of the civil engineering discipline in Stantec but I also have experience in hydraulic modelling, data analytics and information management so I do my best to answer a broad range of questions.

For higher level students looking to study STEM subjects and inquisitive about civil engineering I deliver a ‘Pathways into Engineering’ presentation, supporting ICE’s 16-18s careers campaigns. Some of the key points of interest for these students are full-time university options, modular learning, exams and university rankings. I always make sure I promote ICE’s QUEST Scholarships and how to source summer placements within companies in the industry to improve their employability and widen their experience.

Running children's activities

Alex regularly runs activities at Aberdare Park Primary School
Alex regularly runs activities at Aberdare Park Primary School

Another thing I do is regularly visit Aberdare Park Primary School to run activities with the children there. I’ve done 'Engineering a Bridge', a careers fair demonstrating BIM technology, water filtration, the importance of PPE and the basics of sewerage systems. To raise awareness of using our sewer networks correctly, I often use Southern Water’s resources.

I also promote multi-discipline ICE events at Cardiff University regularly. Attending these events helps broaden my knowledge of the industry which means I’m better informed about careers and can answer questions associated with engineering in my STEM activities. Since becoming an ambassador, my engineering language, public speaking and confidence have greatly improved.

Being part of Stantec's STEM ambassador team, I talk to my colleagues about successes and opportunities as part of our UK STEM initiative. I personally think being a STEM ambassador can hugely contribute to professional development so I encourage colleagues to sign up whenever I can.

My goal for 2020 is to continue engaging with students of all ages to communicate the great opportunities that exist within civil engineering and STEM. Pathways to careers in STEM can take many forms and my mission is to ensure opportunities are made visible to all students and that they are well informed of their options."

John D Brownlie is an ICE Fellow and ICE West Midland’s STEM Ambassador of the Year.

"Many years ago, I started out in ‘STEM’ with a scheme called Opening Windows on Engineering, organised by the great Kevin Walton.

I remember the induction when we all turned up, each of us were fully prepared with sheets and sheets of paper for our presentation. The first candidate started the talk, with the sheets on the rostrum. We all reeled when Kevin walked up to the rostrum and tore up the sheets, explaining to us that, when talking to school children, it has to come from the heart and not from a written script!

I’ve worked for contractors, consultants, project management consultancies, claims consultancies and a variety of clients in many countries around the world and I must admit that during my working life I didn’t do many STEM activities but having retired, seem to find myself doing more and more.

Working as a volunteer

John D. Brownlie (centre) regularly volunteers for ICE W. Midlands, local schools & universities
John D. Brownlie (centre) regularly volunteers for ICE W. Midlands, local schools & Universities

Now I volunteer for ICE West Midlands, local schools, colleges and universities. I have even got involved in things as diverse as F1 in Schools and the Land Rover 4x4 Challenge, which promotes my other big love - motorsport.

My first time at Birmingham’s NCE’s Big Bang Fair I found the sheer numbers of children (around 80,000) and activities daunting but I grasped the challenge and now I volunteer there every year.

The major thing for me is to be able to adapt to the widely varying reactions and interest from the children. I enjoy finding the right way to pique their imagination and seeing how great engagement leads to learning.

I get such a buzz when a child shows a real interest in the activity being delivered. Even more so when I handed over the activity to a group at a school academy recently and they explain it to their peers - I could take a little time out to get a coffee, comfortable in the knowledge that those young people had learned something valuable from me.”

Become a ICE STEM Ambassador

If you would like to join Alex Prance and John D. Brownlie in inspiring the next generation of civil engineers you can join for free as an ICE STEM Ambassador through the STEM Learning website.

  • Kathryn Denham-Maccioni, digital engagement manager at ICE