Posted 9 August 2019
“I really enjoyed seeing their enthusiasm. Personally, I find the idea of role models really important. The teacher had said the fact they saw real engineers was really exciting for them and I tried to make sure there was a range of engineers for them to look to."
A group of eight year 5 students from Hadley Learning Community (HLC), Telford, has visited the Harper Adams University Engineering Department to learn more about working as an engineer.
The activity-filled morning was organised by engineering lecturer Sarah Pickthall. The idea for the event arose when a colleague of Sarah’s overheard a conversation with a teacher, with the words ‘girls can’t be engineers’ coming as a stark reminder of barriers yet to be overcome surrounding gender inclusivity and representation within the industry.
Sarah supports the Stellar Harper Engineers student group, led by Anita Woolf, BEng (Hons) Mechanical Engineering, in order to ensure continuity as a staff member.
The school visit began with a yes/no flash card quiz over pictures of people working, with debate about whether or not they could be engineers.
Sarah said: “We used a few pictures of ex-students as we know they’re engineers, even though it might be a bit ambiguous. Then there were some who clearly weren’t engineers, but there was a middle ground showing people who mend your washing machine, for example. They are often referred to as an engineer, but they’re not. I was really pleased that they all got that one.
“They were about 10 years old and I think that’s the best time to catch them. My son’s a year younger and I can see the gender-specific roles that he can already start seeing which I want to get past in terms of who can, and can’t, be an engineer.”
The pupils were shown around the engineering workshop, which included seeing the University rally car, along with other student projects.
They carried out tests on materials and their properties; figuring out whether pieces of steel were strongest when glued, welded, bolted or riveted together. In the strength testing, the steel that was glued together proved to be the strongest; proving capable of supporting an elephant.
“The glued one is always surprising because it’s a lot stronger than what you’d expect,” said Sarah. “We went back to the workshop and I showed them a Lotus chassis which shows a real industrial use of glue; where at their age their appreciation of glue will be PVA glue or a glue stick. They also enjoyed seeing the autonomous tractor.”
Tom Underhill, Senior Lecturer and Senior Tutor for first year engineering students, spoke to the pupils about a Harper graduate who has gone on to work for Jaguar Land Rover doing test work. Following his presentation, Tom asked the HLC pupils to draw the engineer he had been talking about.
Sarah said: “They produced some great pictures, and most of them drew girls which was really good! I wanted them to draw someone like themselves and they saw straight through what we were doing and drew girls, apart from the teachers, who drew your traditional male engineer which was quite interesting.”
To end the day, it was boys against girls as they were challenged to build a bridge out of Lego.
Sarah concluded: “I really enjoyed seeing their enthusiasm. Personally, I find the idea of role models really important. The teacher had said the fact they saw real engineers was really exciting for them and I tried to make sure there was a range of engineers for them to look to. At the end of the day, role models look like you and seeing someone like them can give them something to aspire to.”